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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 00:04 GMT
Hoping for a new face and new life
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Mesaidi
Mesaidi has come to the UK for surgery
For all of her short life Mesaidi Salim Mbakari has been shunned and stared at.

The 10-year-old Kenyan girl, whose face is severely disfigured, is so embarrassed by the way she looks that she covers her face with a cloth to avoid cruel stares.

Mesaidi has a facial cleft - a condition whereby the skull is not fully closed.

This has resulted in an encephalocele, where the brain protrudes through a hole in the skull.

In Mesaidi's case this hole is where her nose should be and has pushed her eyes apart. Her eyelid on one side is also affected.

But UK doctors hope an operation at the Cromwell Hospital in London this month can help make Mesaidi's life a little easier to bear.

'People stare'

She has been brought to the UK by the Facing the World charity.

What we want to do is make it possible for this child to go home and be able to have a life in society
Simon Eccles, cranio-facial surgeon

"It is like a dream come true for this poor child and her mother," said Thuweba Mohamed, from the Kwale District Eye Centre in Kenya, where Mesaidi was first seen.

"Mesaidi is stigmatised and she invites a lot of stares wherever she goes.

"I understand that her father's family disowned her after his death, and they are not in contact with Mesaidi.

"She told her mother that she doesn't like going out to town because of the way people look at her.

"People will stop whatever they are doing and stop to stare, some with sympathy, some with disbelief and some even with disgust.

"Her mother confided that at one time she overheard a woman saying that 'if I had given birth to such a child I would have thrown it away'. She says this comment hurt her deeply and she will never forget it.

Facing the World logo
Mesaidi's treatment is charity funded

"Mesaidi always covers her disfigured face with a cloth whenever she steps out of her house," Thuweba explained.

She said Mesaidi and her mother, who is from a very poor background and illiterate, are apprehensive at spending up to six months away from home.

But they are also excited about the changes it will bring to them.

Facial reconstruction

Thuweba said: "Mesaidi's mother is very grateful and she believes that prayers have been answered, and her precious daughter now stands a better chance for a better life.

"I too have become close to this charming and brave girl, and am looking forward to a brighter future for her."

A team, including five consultant surgeons and one consultant anaesthetist, all of whom have given their time free, expect the operation to last a whole day.

Mesaidi's mother is very grateful and she believes that prayers have been answered
Thuweba Mohamed, Kwale District Eye Centre

They will conduct an orbitopalpebral (eye socket) repair, resect the encephelocele and close the defect.

They will also reconstruct her nose and attempt to create facial symmetry. It is probable that she will be fitted with a prosthetic eye.

Further smaller operations may be needed before she goes home, and then later as her bones grow.

Mr Simon Eccles, consultant cranio-facial surgeon, based at Charing Cross and the Chelsea and Westminster, will be part of the team operating on Mesaidi.

He said her condition was extremely severe - with only one in 100,000 children so badly affected.

"We do not know the reason for these facial clefts, but what we want to do is make it possible for this child to go home and be able to have a life in society.

"I have been involved with another couple of children and it is just wonderful to see the changes in them - to see them smiling and to hear how they are so much happier.

"It is fantastic to see them."

'Awe-inspiring'

Sarah Driver-Jowitt, from Facing the World, said being able to help these children was a humbling experience.

"The children that we treat have - without exception - experienced challenges and rejection on a scale that it is hard for us to even comprehend.

"Almost all of them arrive very challenged by their experiences of rejection.

"Being able to be part of these children's transformation, not just physically but also psychologically, into confident young people is a privilege.

"They, and their parents, are a constant inspiration."


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