"Slurp!" was heard as Dunia Sibomana sipped a spoonful of chicken
broth through his newly created lips. The surgery has already helped
him keep food inside his mouth, speak more clearly and stop constant
drooling, said lead surgeon Dr. Alexander Dagum, the hospital's
chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Two years ago, Sibomana was playing with children in his native
Democratic Republic of Congo when chimpanzees attacked, ripping off
his lips and killing his younger brother.
The rare double-lip reconstruction requires several surgeries over
the course of about nine months, and the first took place on Jan.
Complications arose during the surgery, which was expected to last
eight hours but stretched to 14, as Dagum harvested a rectangle of
skin, nerve, tendon and vein from the child's forearm and used it to
form the circle of both lips.
It turned out the vein was too short to reach a crucial blood supply
in the neck so Dagum scrambled to collect a second vein from the
boy's upper arm to make the connection.
Racing against the clock to keep the transferred tissue alive by
surgically restoring the blood supply, Dagum looked through a
microscope and sewed vein to vein and nerve to nerve.
In the end, Dagum said he was surprised by the extent Sibomana is
now able to move his lips, which will improve further as swelling
subsides. A subsequent surgery this summer also is meant to enhance
the movement and look of the lips.
"We're really happy. We got more than we expected," Dagum said.
After surgery, Sibomana remained sedated for a week as the healing
began. His hospital room is filled with stuffed animals and balloons
and manned 24 hours each day by volunteers from Smile Rescue Fund
for Kids, the charity that paid for his travel to the hospital,
which donated the medical treatment.
[to top of second column]
He woke surrounded by the American family he has been living with -
Jennifer Crean and her three children Collin, 16, Eian, 12, and
Grace, 10, of the Long Island hamlet of Hauppauge.
Enough donations have poured into SmileRescueFund.org to allow
Sibomana to attend boarding school back in Africa, which costs less
than $700 a year, said charity founder Leon Klempner, a retired
Stony Brook dentist.
"Home - I need home! Ziggy!" said Sibomana, a native Swahili speaker
who is picking up English, calling out the name of the Crean family
dog as he waited to be discharged from the hospital last week.
It will be another week before Sibomana is allowed to play outside,
Dagum said, but by then the snow from the blizzard that crippled the
U.S. Northeast on Jan. 23 may have melted away.
But hospital food director Michael West, who witnessed Sibomana's
excitement over seeing snow for the first time, said he made sure
the boy would not miss the fun of building snowmen or having a
snowball fight. As the blizzard raged on, West said, he brought a
bucket of the white stuff into Sibomana's hospital room.
"I was soaking wet - he has a pretty good arm on him and he has good
aim," West said.
(Editing by Frank McGurty, Bernard Orr)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.