Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Operation of Hope.....working in Zimbabwe....

Operation of Hope was donating surgeries in Africa in 2006 when they met a gentle 15 year-old Zimbabwean boy named Beloved. On that memorable day, Beloved and his family put aside their darkest fears of rejection and cautiously approached this medical team with a whisper of hope tucked deep inside their hearts. Could this surgical team from the United States mend their child's horribly distorted face?

Beloved standing with his Mother before his home in Zimbabwe Africa, 6 years after stomach lining was used to reconstruct his mouth.

For Operation of Hope to understand what happened, Beloved's grandmother poured her emotions out from a day that took place when the boy was just 10 years old. It was then, under the graceful molten-sun of an early African morning, the deep-red earth began its slow exhale as the sounds of songbirds painted the air. The cadence of a typical day began for the rural village of Epworth Mission. Beloved chased friends innocently through his Grandmother's field.

Suddenly, Beloved halted to investigate a quick flash that had emitted from the ground. Beloved slowly knelt down and discovered a metallic object that contrasted with the ancient sweeping grasses of his world. Beloved remembers the child's excitement of coming across a transistor radio as he methodically attempted to produce a voice from within this object. With yet no results, Beloved innocently touched the object to his mouth with hopes of better transmission.

Beloved in the US hours before surgery at the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, California

The songbirds bolted. The warm winds could only hold the echo of a sharp blast and the piercing cries of family and neighbors. In one devastating moment, a landmine had eliminated the lower portion of a child's face.

Operation of Hope Program Director Jennifer Trubenbach, remembers the day we met Beloved and his family. "I knew at the time we could not make any promises, but something visceral told me we could help this child. I just needed to talk with my surgeons and harvest some time to sort out a plan. As soon as I got back to the US, I put calls out to as many facial reconstructive specialists as I could find." Over the next 9 months, Jennifer concerted the effort to bring Beloved to the US for surgery.

Founder and retired lead surgeon for Operation of Hope, Dr. Joseph Clawson remembers the first and most important step. "The focus was to find a gifted free-flap specialist who could take on this case pro-bono. Our hope was we could find someone in the Los Angeles area where Jennifer and her family would house and care for Beloved for the procedure and recovery stages."

Dr. Keith Blackwell and Dr. Babek Azizzadeh discuss Belovedís 9 hour proceedure shown at an early stage in the photo below

Fortunately, one of the world's finest facial reconstructive surgeons, Keith Blackwell, M.D., had an ear for Jennifer's call and Beloved's heart. Dr. Blackwell along with the additions of reconstructive surgeon Babek Azizzadeh, M.D., FACS and Dr. Eleni Roumanas from the Maxillofacial Clinic at the UCLA School of Dentistry, and UCLA anesthesiologists, all donated their time and talent.

7:30am. October 29th, 2007. A team of 15 specialists at the UCLA Medical Center gave Beloved the opportunity to once again look normal. Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Azizzadeh reported the surgery went better than they had even imagined. The procedure involved reshaping Beloved's lips, which originally Doctors in Africa had created using his stomach lining.

Then, a 6-inch artery was harvested from Beloved's bicep. Using an expensive technologically advanced microscope unavailable in Zimbabwe, this extracted artery redirected a permanent and vital blood supply to the critical areas under reconstruction. A 'free-flap', (a removed piece of skin) was then taken from his wrist and used to cover the area under his nose, jaw and cheek. For appearance, tissue was removed from his thigh to cover the area where the free-flap had been extracted from his wrist.

Operation of Hope's Marketing Director Stephen Clawson witnessed the 9 hour procedure. "I have known Beloved for over a year now. To see him on an operating table and to witness the skill these surgeons hold was surreal. Before me, I could now see the young man he was always supposed to be. I can only imagine what his family will feel when he returns to Africa in a few months. His swelling will reduce, suture scars will become whispers and his new teeth will be fitted into a simple smile."

In Beloved's Shona culture, all elder females in a family are called Mothers. The Aunt is a mom, a sister is a mom, a Grandmother is a mom. Operation of Hope asks you kindly to become a "Mother" of Beloved. Donate now to the BELOVED FUND and help pay for this child's costly surgery. Share this opportunity to return this child to Africa changed forever.


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