‘My friends will see a new me’

2015-01-26 00:00

SHE does not want to be different any more.

“I want to be like other children, I don’t want to be different.”

These were the words of Innocentia Bekwa (20), a matric pupil from Gumbani in Limpopo, after a team of Pretoria doctors constructed a prosthetic nose for her.

Bekwa was born without a nose or nasal cavity. The condition is so rare that there are only 37 such recorded cases.

Bekwa is convinced that her friends will be ­surprised when they see her at school because she had not told anyone that she was going to be ­operated on.

“They will see a new me.”

Maxillo-facial and oral surgeon Dr Hermann Kluge, his brother, Dr Johann Kluge (an ear, nose and throat specialist), and Dr Cules van den Heever (a prosthodontist) were the medical team members who performed the operation. The same team also performed the only other operation of this kind that has ever been done.

As her upper jaw had no internal or external nose structures, the team adapted existing procedures to create a new nasal passage and cavity for Bekwa.

Her upper jaw was also loosened from the skull and moved slightly forward to restore her bite.

They implanted four magnets around the nose opening and connected the nose prosthesis to it with the aid of another set of magnets.

Because Bekwa’s nose could not be drained, the team also created a drainage system. As a result of this procedure, her tears can now be drained to her new nasal cavity.

According to Dr Hermann Kluge, the process was started by taking a scan of Bekwa’s skull. This was sent to the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, where a three-dimensional ­model of the skull was built and used in the ­planning process.

Van den Heever said the specific colour of the silicone prosthesis was designed by a computer.

“The design of the prosthesis is done on computer and then refined by hand. The colouring which we use for the prosthesis is similar to what is used for special effects in the movies.”

Van den Heever believes their work could have a great effect on the community.

“The problem is that these operations [with prosthetics] are known all over the world but it is not known that it is being done in South Africa.

“It is a totally new field. I think there are many people who are unaware of what we can do for them in this country.”

According to Dr Hermann Kluge, this procedure gave Bekwa a second chance in life.

“The biggest problem with this condition is that it is so focused on the face, that a person cannot hide it. As a result, the patients become outcasts in the community because they spend their days hiding away. The [prosthesis] changes their lives to such a degree that they can become part of the ­community.”

The motivation for the procedure is not only of a cosmetic nature. In Bekwa’s case, it will also improve her overall health.

“Without a nose, it feels as if the person suffers from a permanent cold. A person does not have a nose to breathe with. People with this type off defect can easily suffer from eye infections, and can choke and die,” said Kluge.

“It is remarkable to see a patient of her age ­because normally they die young.”

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