At just 6 months old, Marie “Hana” Gebrewold fell out of her bed—beginning nearly three decades of suffering, hope, and—all too often—shattering disappointment. Immediately after the fall, her doctors in Ethiopia treated her two broken hands, but no one noticed her broken jaw. As she grew, it became increasingly lopsided, affecting her appearance, speech, and ability to chew.
When Hana was 5 years old, her parents sought treatment for her worsening condition, but medical specialists suggested that they wait a few years until she grew more. Two years later her parents saw a specialist again, but they could not afford the surgery Hana needed. Meanwhile she endured not only physical discomfort but also the mental anguish of teasing from other kids.
At age 10, Hana thought her suffering might end when a group of physicians from Europe and the United States offered to perform the surgery she needed—only to discover she had diabetes. Because they could not remain in Ethiopia to provide follow up care after the surgery, they decided the diabetes made the risk of the operation too great. For the next decade Hana was forced to live with no hope of relief from her condition.
Finally, in 2002, the 21-year-old Hana came to the United States and visited a dentist who volunteers for Operation Smile—a worldwide children’s medical charity. With Operation Smile’s help, Hana’s dentist was able to pull together a team of doctors—including ASPS Member Surgeon Dr. Steven Baker—and resources for her reconstructive surgery. At last, in May 2008, they scheduled the long-needed operation.
“When I first met Hana, she was very pleasant, yet shy,” recalls Dr. Baker. “She was severely lacking in confidence and had her head wrapped and her face covered.” Hana avoided social situations, fearing the dreaded question she had so often confronted in Ethiopia: “What happened to your jaw?”
To restore both function and form to Hana’s jaw, Dr. Baker performed a series of reconstructive plastic surgery procedures, moving the left side of the upper jaw up and the right side down, mobilizing the lower jaw to fit into the new position of the upper jaw, and securing them with titanium plates and screws. Dr. Baker also grafted bone from Hana’s hip to right side of the lower jaw to correct the arrested growth, which resulted from the failure to treat her condition at an earlier age. He also adjusted the position of her chin to give it a more normal appearance in relation to the rest of her face.
Dr. Baker’s assistant recalls Hana’s first follow-up office visit, just one month after surgery: “When she came to the office window to check in, I didn’t recognize her at all. I asked her for her name, and she giggled and said, ‘It’s me, Hana!’ I couldn’t believe my eyes—this once-shy and reserved young woman was a vision of confidence and beauty. Everything about her was different. Her clothing—even her walk—reflected her new-found confidence.”
Hana—now outgoing and friendly—is continuing her nursing studies so that she can give back to others. “Dr. Baker not only changed my physical appearance; he changed my whole life,” she says. “I smile so often, and my confidence has been boosted up so much! On top of that, he taught me to do good things for others. It is priceless. Words can say only so much.”