New nose for Nomfundo

2013-10-02 00:00

FOR one little girl, school was a place where ordinary children went, but not her. Born with a complicated genetic condition similar to a cleft palate, the result was that she had no nose.

Nomfundo Mbanjwa (8) has beautiful brown eyes and when she smiles, her whole face lights up. Like most girls her age, she has two missing front teeth, but where a nose would normally be, there are just two semi-formed tunnels. She has no bone to give any proper shape to the area between her eyes and mouth.

The children who live closest to her home in the rural area of Curry’s Post teased her, and her mother and grandmother decided it would be better if she didn’t go to school.

It was by chance that the principal of the Curry’s Post school, Patrick Ndlovu, spotted Nomfundo playing at home when he was visiting a relative. He asked why she was not attending his school and was told about the teasing. He promised he would speak to all the children and make them behave, and in 2012, Nomfundo joined Grade One. While the children could not resist looking at her, they tried very hard to treat her like an ordinary pupil.

But Nomfundo herself felt keenly that she did not fit in and she often missed school. She would complain of stomach aches and say she was not feeling well. There were problems at home and Nomfundo and her younger sister were often left at home with her elderly grandmother. A year previously, one of their siblings had died. Nomfundo was suffering in more ways than her physical appearance. When the school had it’s annual trustee meeting, Ndlovu mentioned her plight to the board of trustees and they agreed to see what they could do.

The Curry’s Post School is a government school that is supported by the Curry’s Post Trust. Many of the trustees are farmers, landowners or former farm owners who live in the area. One of the trustees was Sas Armstrong, who took photographs of a very shy Nomfundo and sent them to the Smile Foundation, which specialises in cleft-palate reconstruction.

They gave a positive response and in February this year, she visited a plastic surgeon in Pietermaritzburg who examined her and said that she has a very complicated condition and they are not able to operate due to her age.

In nose reconstruction cases, bone from elsewhere have to be used and skin grafts done, and the operation cannot be done until the face is finished growing, usually at 18 years old. Smile contacted Armstrong and referred her to an occularist in Durban who would be able to offer an interim solution.

Armstrong took Nomfundo to see Durban-based Peter Furber, who specialises mostly in the fitting of artificial eyes. He makes prostheses of eyes, hands and noses.

“I made a mould of Nomfundo’s face using dental material,” said Furber. “We then made a model of the face, which was cast in dental plaster. The next step was to create an artificial nose from wax, which we fitted to the plaster cast of her face to see that it fitted and suited the face shape.”

The mould was tried on her face and a silicone nose was eventually created, which was tinted to match her skin tone.

Furber suggested that Nomfundo wear clear glasses to help hide the join between her own skin and her prosthetic nose, and also to give her nose some stability. Moffat Optical in Howick agreed to sponsor the glasses.

Nomfundo’s prosthetic nose should last two years before it starts to fade and the edges begin to degrade. It sticks to her face with a special glue. While they were waiting for her appointment, Armstrong took Nomfundo and her gogo to the beach. Neither of them had seen the sea.

Armstrong said: “She was very scared of the waves and I think quite bewildered by the experience. They could not believe the surfers who could balance on the water on their “sticks”, they were also quite delighted with the sand artists.

Nomfundo is quite a celebrity because of her new nose. Her class teacher has told Ndlovu that she is a very different child and she attends school more regularly. “She participates in class and she is not sad anymore.”

Armstrong said the experience with Nomfundo has been a lesson for her as well. “I did not realise how much I take for granted. Most of us take our normal appearance for granted and this little girl hardly complained, and she didn’t expect to get a miracle.”

She will get a replacement prosthesis every two years until she is old enough to choose whether she wants to have a surgical intervention or continue with her silicone nose.

• trish.beaver@witness.co.za

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