Toddler gets new face

2013-01-31 00:00

NEVER again will she have the face that nature intended, but four hours of surgical reconstruction have restored some normality to a little girl mutilated and burnt two years ago.

The toddler from Matatiele, whose identity is being withheld, underwent her first major operation yesterday at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.

Wielding the scalpel was acclaimed surgeon Professor Anil Madaree, whose magic in the operating theatre gave the two-year-old back her eyelids.

According to medical records, he rebuilt the eyelids using skin harvested from her left buttock.

Work was also done to rebuild her top lip, which the little tot’s attacker also sliced with a knife.

Further surgery was performed to release her contracted and badly burnt left arm.

The procedures were deemed the most pressing to restore functions and, in the case of her eyes, to guard against infection and permanent damage.

For the next five days, she faces a world of complete darkness until the dressings covering her eyes are removed.

Nurses said it would be a trying time for child and mom.

“Her voice will help comfort the child,” said one nurse.

For good measure, doctors bandaged her good hand to prevent her picking at the sutures.

Speaking to The Witness at her daughter’s bedside, the mother was a mixture of apprehension and gratitude.

“It is hard to see her like this, but I’m happy she has been helped,” she said.

A little teddy bear stood sentry at the top of the bed while her mother leapt up each time the little patient stirred. Nurses hovered around the bed waiting for the child to wake up.

Nursing sister Nokuthula Msweli said the arm that was operated on would have to be suspended from above.

“That will help the healing and stop it from swelling,” she said.

Two people who were rooting for the patient — Amy Byloo and Paul Kelly — were both thrilled when contacted after the operation.

Byloo, a Pietermaritzburg reader who was so deeply affected by the child’s story that she persisted in getting her the surgery she needed, was over the moon. “I’m so pleased it went well.”

It was Byloo who convinced children’s charity Operation Smile to help the child.

Kelly, the organisation’s education manager for Africa, jumped into action. “Fantastic, that is great news,” Kelly said when told all had gone well.

Kelly said they had the capacity to do only about seven cases a year, but 20 patients currently needed surgery and another 20 potential candidates were waiting in the wings. For now, the focus is on the toddler, who has a lifetime of surgery ahead.

The child’s life was changed forever when she was attacked in September 2011. The perpetrator also chopped off her nose, left ear, a thumb and finger, and then set her alight in a blanket.

Two suspects close to the family were identified and eventually arrested by police, but the Matatiele Magistrate’s Court released them for lack of evidence. No further arrests have been made.

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