Ayan Mohamed given a new life by Brisbane surgeons
Ayan Mohamed and Edna Adan Ismail post-surgery at the Wesley Hospital. Photo: Supplied.
By Amy Remeikis
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Sore and swollen, Ayan Mohamed used her eyes to smile.
By the end of the week, she'll have no problem curving her mouth.
A marathon 11-hour operation at the Wesley Hospital on Saturday involved up to a dozen specialists, nursing staff and doctors who freely gave their time, expertise and equipment.
It not only gave the shy, softly spoken 25-year-old her face back, it gave her hope.
As a two-year-old, Ms Mohamed was a victim of the brutal Somali war. It robbed her of the right side of her face, causing her mouth to move, destroying her cheek, chin and teeth and left her unable to properly close her right eye.
Doctors at a refugee camp saved her life, but she spent the next 23 years hiding her injuries under a niqab, as she felt she was too "scary" to expose her face.
As a 14-year-old, she was taken to Edna Adna Ismail at her recently established hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland, to see if there was anything that could be done.
Eleven years later, a team of surgeons and specialists, led by Wesley Hospital oral and maxillofacial surgeon John Arvier, put back together what war had ripped away.
They used synthetic implants to rebuild her eye socket and cheek, taking skin from under her neck to graft over the implants and cartilage from her left ear to rebuild her nostrils.
They removed damaged teeth and pulled her mouth back to centre, crafting her a chin and creating dentures.
Dr Arvier said while each individual stage of the operation was "straight forward", the combination was "unusual".
He put that down to most Australian's good fortune.
"We don't see hundreds of gunshot injuries in Australia, which is our good luck," he said.
An hour of operating for each year she'd waited since first visiting Mrs Ismail later and Ms Mohamed had a complete face.
When she woke, one of the first things she did was refuse her niqab.
Mrs Ismail, who was in the operating theatre with Ms Mohamed said she was sharing well-wishes that had been left on a website with her charge, when a photo of Ms Mohamed before the operation filled the screen.
"I said 'who is this' and she said 'I don't know'," Mrs Ismail said.
"Ayan is a new person and I think she feels happier inside.
"...She is sore of course, but you can see it in her eyes, she is happy."
And after looking in the mirror, the mother-of-one finally made her own plans for the future.
Asked what she wanted to do when she returned home to Somaliland, Ms Mohamed was emphatic.
"She said, 'well first I want to go back to school'," Mrs Ismail said.
"She had to drop out of school, because it was getting too unpleasant. It was not easy for her to go to school. But she said 'now I want to go back to school and I want to be a doctor'.
"I promised that as a long as I live and I can, I will support her going to school.
"To have a girl who dropped out of school because of a disfigurement, want to become a doctor to help other people, I think it is wonderful."
It's a big leap for a woman who only rode an escalator for the first time last week and was entranced by tropical fish swimming inside a tank in the Wesley Hospital lobby.
By the end of the week, just before she is released from hospital, her bandages will be removed.
From there, she will be released into the care of a Somaliland family living in Brisbane, coming back to the hospital for outpatient care, before returning home at the end of next week.
"It has been hands across the world which has brought Ayan here," Mrs Ismail said, referencing the countless people and organisations, including her own hospital staff and Brisbane Rotary clubs, which worked together and donated time and money to make Ms Mohamed's operation a reality.
"...She is a healthy, determined young woman, who has been given a new life."
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