Something to Smile About
Boy Left Disfigured near Congo Jungle to Receive Corrective Surgery at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital
STONY BROOK, NY January 11, 2016 – A Congolese boy who was left severely disfigured after being attacked by a group of chimpanzees near his village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, will undergo a rare facial reconstruction surgery at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
At the age of 6, Dunia Sibomana was playing with his brother and cousin near Virunga National Park when the three were violently attacked nearly two years ago. Dunia survived the attack, but was left disfigured; his upper and lower lips were torn off his face, he lost a finger and part of an ear, and he has extensive scarring along the right side of his cheek. Dunia’s brother was not as fortunate and did not survive the attack. Park rangers are still looking for Dunia’s older cousin and believe that if he wasn’t killed that he might have been so severely disfigured that he may be hiding from his family in a different village.
Today, at the age of 8, Dunia has difficulty eating and speaking. He has lost his ability to smile and he drools often because he has no lips to prevent saliva from dripping. His appearance also left him as a social outsider in his village– his friends distanced themselves from him, children at school teased him, and adults ignored him.
Rangers from the national park connected Dunia with Stony Brook Children’s Hospital through renowned anthropologist Richard Leakey, PhD., Professor and Chair of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University. Dr. Leakey connected with his friend, Dr. Alexander Dagum, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Stony Brook Medicine who discussed Dunia’s case with Dr. Leon Klempner, associate professor of dentistry at the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, who founded the non-profit organization Smile Rescue Fund for Kids. Through the organization Dunia made it to the United States and was accompanied by one of the park rangers while his widowed father stayed behind. Because of the diligence of Drs. Dagum and Klempner, Dunia’s first surgery is set for Monday, January 11.
“He was shunned by the villagers there. He attempted to go to school but it was too painful for him,” Dr. Klempner told CBS New York‘s Dr. Max Gomez.
Since arriving in the U.S. nearly six weeks ago, the Long Island community has embraced Dunia. He is living with a host family in the Hauppauge area where he is going to school, making new friends, learning English and just being a kid. Like most American children, Dunia has acquired a taste for chicken fingers, french fries and pizza. Dr. Klempner told Reuters News that “he has some difficulty keeping food in his mouth without lips” but that Dunia has managed to gain some weight in recent weeks and is now up to 48 lbs.
Dr. Dagum plans to surgically restore Dunia’s lips, taking skin from the forearm with a blood vessel and sensory nerve, and bringing it up to his face to give him new tissue for his lips.
“A number of surgeries have rebuilt an upper or a lower lip,” Dr. Dagum told CNN.com, “and that’s easier because you borrow tissue from one lip to rebuild the other. Here we have nothing to borrow from. There’s maybe one or two reports in the world of both lips being reconstructed.”
This procedure is challenging, but the most difficult part is getting the new lips to have sensation and the ability to move. Dr. Dagum explained that lips function when we speak and they also allow us to eat and prevent us from drooling. Dr. Dagum is hopeful that his team will be able to give Dunia functioning, cosmetically acceptable lips. The process will likely take three or four operations over the next six to eight months.
Dr. Klempner told Reuters that his organization is also collecting donations at SmileRescueFund.org – which will allow Dunia to attend boarding school back in Africa, which costs less than $700 a year.”We’re feeling very optimistic,” Klempner told the Associated Press. “We’re hoping after the surgery he’ll reintegrate into society and perhaps go back to school or have some semblance of a normal life.”
About Stony Brook Children’s Hospital
With 106 beds, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital is Suffolk County’s only children’s hospital. More than 8,000 children and young adults are discharged each year. Stony Brook Children’s has more than 160 pediatric specialists in over 30 specialties. The hospital is Suffolk County’s only Level 4 Regional Perinatal Center and has a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It is home to the nation’s first Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center and also offers a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, Pediatric Cardiology Program, Pediatric HIV and AIDS Center, and Cystic Fibrosis Center. To learn more, visit www.stonybrookchildrens.org.