A 19-year-old Kenyan girl has returned home after undergoing life-changing operations in the United States. Doctors from Stony Brook University in New York successfully carried out reconstructive surgeries on Saline Atieno, who suffered from noma.
Noma, also known as cancrum oris, is orofacial gangrene affecting impoverished and malnourished children. The condition had deformed Atieno’s face, making it difficult for her to eat, speak, and breathe.
Atieno has been under the care of a team of doctors led by Stony Brook Dental Medicine Associate Professor Leon Klempner and Dr. Alexander Dagum for the past eight years.
"I'm thankful for all the good job that they (doctors) gave for me on my face and make me look beautiful," said Atieno, who recently returned to Kenya.
Dr. Klempner learned about the teen’s condition during an outreach medical trip at Gertrude’s Children Hospital in Nairobi in 2010.
“She was homebound. She went to school once or twice and never came back because the kids would make fun of her. I knew I couldn’t help all kids but I could help one and Saline was the one,” said Klempner.
It is from Atieno’s plight that Dr. Klempner came up with the idea of starting a non-profit organization dubbed Smile Rescue Fund for Kids and brought her to Long Island in NY in 2013.
Surgeons performed at least 10 surgeries to reconstruct her face, allowing her to speak, breathe and eat without straining.
“It was truly a team effort. Everyone volunteered their services and everyone wanted to help. Saline is one of our children. We feel that she is part of our family," Klempner said.
During her stay in the US, she perfected her English skills and was attending Newfield High School in Selden, NY where she made a lot of friends.