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Archive for May 3rd, 2011

Easter Miracle: The Rebirth of an Ethiopian Girl

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on May 3, 2011

Y eabsra Hailmarim is making bead necklaces, just like any 6-year-old. She is playing with Play-Doh and pushing a doll carriage, concentrating the way kids do.

But this 6-year-old is transformed.

Nearly two weeks ago the Ethiopian girl underwent surgery to correct a severe facial cleft. The results seem like a miracle.

There’s an incision, covered in salve, hidden in her hairline. That’s where her face was delicately folded back, then perfectly replaced. It’s healing well, says Dr. Christopher Forrest, the chief of plastic surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children. Yeabsra has a new nose hidden beneath a splint and bandage, which keeps the swelling down. It’s still sensitive and she doesn’t want anyone touching it.

There’s no external evidence that her skull was cut in four places and put back together. Her eyes are now closer together, as they should be, though still slightly swollen.

Yeabsra, whose Ethiopian doctor first said was 5 years old, hasn’t seen her new, lovely face. She looked in the mirror once, a few days after the April 18 surgery, and was frightened by the bandages. She hasn’t looked since. At bath time, her mother, Aynalem Adugna, covers the mirrors so she can’t see.

She is more subdued now, rapt in her play. She doesn’t throw herself into adult laps the way she used to. If a little time goes by without seeing her mother, she calls for her.

Yeabsra’s nightmares have stopped and she is now sleeping peacefully through the night. Her daughter’s quiet disposition is a little worrisome for Adugna. “I hope that will change.”

Adugna has also been transformed. There is a lightness in her now, a calm where before there was deepest anxiety. She’s staying with Yeabsra in hospital, sleeping on a small bed near her daughter’s. Her red leather-bound prayer book is nearby. On the door some handwritten notes help nurses ask in the Amharic language: “Is she in pain? Is she thirsty?”

The 12 hours was like 12 days for me,” she says, through a translator, of the operation. “I was worried if she would come out of the surgery alive. I asked myself why did I make this decision.”

Members of Toronto’s St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral stayed with her through the long day. That helped distract her.

Surgeons, meanwhile, faced grave issues during surgery.

They operated around Yeabsra’s brain, where they encountered a spike of bone with blood vessels around them. It was extremely delicate work.

It was a thrill, the day she left the intensive care unit and looked up at me with eyes open,” Forrest says. “I could see she was tracking me, she knew who I was and she could count my fingers.” He held up one finger and, on cue, she said, “One.”

That told me her vision was intact,” says Forrest and her responses were “neurologically appropriate.”

Forrest hopes to discharge Yeabsra on Sunday. She’s off antibiotics and her temperature has been normal. “But she’s not entirely out of the woods, there’s still an opportunity for infection.”

He’d like to wait six months before reconstructing the tip of Yeabsra’s nose. She was brought to Canada from Ethiopia with the help of the Toronto-based charity Transforming Faces Worldwide, which helps children with lip and cleft palate get surgery and follow-up treatment. The Herbie Fund at Sick Kids looked after her hospital costs, while doctors waived their fees.

But because the family lives in Addis Ababa, it may be too costly to bring her back for follow-up surgery. If that’s the case, Forrest will likely do the operation in the next three to four weeks.

Yeabsra and her mom will spend the rest of their time in Toronto staying with Jeanne Mott, a woman who volunteered to host them. Ethiopian families who had lined up to accommodate them fell through — flu swept through one family, others lived too far from the hospital.

Transforming Faces has received a few dozen new donors. One donor wrote: “Tell Yeabsra and her family Canadians do care what happens to children in other countries.” Another asked that her donation be used on “something fun,” a visit to the Toronto Zoo, or Build-A-Bear, a craft where children make their own stuffed animals.

The Barbie doll that went with Yeabsra into surgery went missing, but has been replaced by several others, who now sit at the foot her bed.

Yeabsra continues to play contentedly. Over her hospital pajamas, she’s wearing the purple jacket she wore when she arrived in Canada. The jacket has a word on it, one that seems to sum up the present situation: “smile.”

Yeabsra does just that.

Click to see more photos

Source: Toronto Star

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