Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Edith is Beautiful

Edith with her father and baby brother.

Tony, Erica, Edith, and her little brother.

Here is a patient story I recently completed.

“Am I beautiful?” 13-year-old Edith wondered, as she slowly lifted a hand-held mirror to eye level.

The bulky tumor which had overtaken her face was gone – removed by a doctor at a local hospital. For days, the surgical site had lain hidden under a covering of gauze and tape. But now, the bandages were off. The hospital staff had told her she would be beautiful after the operation. She was anxious to see how she looked.

When Edith finally lifted the mirror high enough to see herself, she began to cry. Her right eye and nostril were glued shut with distorted skin. Her face was mangled and scarred. The answer was “No, she wasn’t beautiful.”

Edith’s facial tumor had begun growing during her pre-adolescent years. By the time she reached 13, it was the size of a fist. It began to shift her eyes, nose, and mouth across her face, making it increasingly difficult to eat and breathe. Her life was in danger.

A missionary couple, Tony and Erica Omoijuanfo, met Edith while passing through her village in Benin. Realizing her life was in danger, they brought her to a local hospital. A surgeon, with neither plastic nor maxilla-facial experience, agreed to take her case. Although not ideal, it was Edith’s only hope. If the tumor wasn’t removed, she was going to die.

The tumor was successfully removed, saving Edith’s life. But back in her village, all anyone noticed was Edith’s mangled face. People thought she didn’t look like a human being.

“No one would come near me,” said Edith. “Everybody used to run away from me. If I drank in a cup, no one would drink from that cup. If I touched something, no one would touch it. I did not have any friends,” she said.

Edith’s sweet spirit and caring heart hadn’t been altered by the tumor or surgery, but her village couldn’t see that. They were blinded by the visible.

For months, Edith spent her days alone, in a dark room. Her father, Daniel Tahou, was the only person who would sit with her. “She couldn’t play with friends; they used to run away from her because of her face,” said Daniel. He hated watching his daughter suffer.

Tony and Erica hadn’t forgotten about Edith. Everyday they prayed for her. One morning, Erica received an email from a supporter in America. They told her the Africa Mercy was coming to Benin.

So Tony and Erica brought Edith to a Mercy Ships screening day. After being evaluated by a surgeon, she was scheduled for a free surgery. The surgeon couldn’t promise to make Edith’s face “perfect.” However, he could reconstruct her cheek to dramatically improve her appearance, giving her back the use of her right eye and nostril.

Edith received her free surgery on the Africa Mercy. Upon leaving the ship, she was very pleased at how looked. Returning to her village, she was accepted and welcomed.

“Before the surgery, people used to say Edith could not do anything,” says her father. “But since she came back from the ship, she looks like a human being. Now she can go to the market, take care of her little brother, and all her friends are here in the house. I want to thank Mercy Ships because they changed Edith’s life,” he concluded.

Some scars may remain on her face, but Edith has healed.

“When I got back to school, all my friends were happy to see me,” said Edith. “We play together, and I am not ashamed. I do not hide anymore myself in the room like before,” she concluded.

Against the metric of perfection, Edith still might be called ugly, but everyone who meets Edith knows she is beautiful. The hope in her eyes and joy in her smile outshine her scars.

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