Dr. James Chao Performs Surgery for Blessing Makwera of Zimbabwe

Plastic Surgery

A few seconds of tragic teenage curiosity have brought five years of pain and difficulty to Blessing Makwera of Zimbabwe. Now, hope, in the form of extensive reconstructive surgery, is close at hand.

Makwera's path to San Diego started in 2008, when his cousin handed him a small metal device with two wires sticking out.

"He just gave it to me like, do you know what this is," the thin 20-year-old said Wednesday in muffled but articulate English.

Always curious about how things work, the boy put the device in his mouth, freeing both of his hands to touch the two wires to the positive and negative terminals of his cellphone battery.

The resulting explosion from what turned out to be a detonator, the kind used to set off land mines, destroyed most of the boy's jaw and teeth. Since the explosion, eating and talking have been a daily ordeal.

Eventually Makwera's plight came to the attention of Operation of Hope Worldwide, a nonprofit based in Lake Forest that brings surgeons to developing countries to perform surgeries on children born with facial deformities like cleft palates.

Jennifer Trubenbach, the organization's president, said Blessing's situation was too complex to handle in Zimbabwe, so she began looking for sponsors to fund a trip to America and for a hospital and team of surgeons willing to donate the procedure. She said Sharp HealthCare, once it learned of Makwera's situation, was quick to respond.

"They just swung the doors open wide," Trubenbach said.

The 20-year-old is headed for 10 hours of surgery Saturday, the first of three operations designed to rebuild his jaw, repair scar tissue in and around his mouth and install new permanent false teeth. A team of seven local surgeons is working with Sharp to donate the work, which is estimated to take eight months.

Dr. Joel Berger, the maxillofacial surgeon heading the team, predicted big changes for his patient.

"At the end of eight months, he'll be able to smile, laugh, speak, eat whatever he wants and function as a normal human being," Berger said.

An X-ray shows the surgeons' starting point. There, where his jaw should be, is the bright arc of a steel surgical wire installed by an African doctor.

Author
Dr. James J. Chao

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