Noma â€“ no more: Aissa’s new face
Seven-year-old Aissa weighed 11 kg when she arrived onboard the Mercy Ship where a team of maxillo-facial surgeons reconstructed her face ravaged by noma, a flesh eating disease.
Walking down a street in Cameroon, West Africa, physician’s assistant Sarah Root noticed a little girl with a dirty rag wrapped around her head, covered in flies.
When Sarah uncovered Aissa’s face, she almost recoiled at the appalling sight. A wound extended from the child's right eye to her jaw and from the corner of her lip to her ear. A hole gaped where the skin had been eaten away, and swelling closed her right eye.
Noma! A flesh-eating disease born of poverty - unclean drinking water, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, lack of immunizations, and lack of medical care. Noma’s victims are children, often attacking after childhood disease has weakened the immune system. If diagnosed immediately and treated with antibiotics, noma can be stopped. If untreated, effects are permanent or fatal. An estimated half million cases are reported yearly, mainly in the poorest countries of West Africa, and 90% of noma victims die within a month.
With Sarah’s intervention, Aissa is one of the 10% who survived. However, at seven years old and weighing only 11 kg, she had a fragile hold on life. Hospitalized, her grandmother and uncle stayed with her because her parents had abandoned her when she became ill.
Doctors removed the infected part of Aissa’s cheek and put her on a feeding tube. Within four months, she gained weight and began to blossom in an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
Abigail Boys, a general surgeon volunteering at the hospital in Cameroon, had worked with Mercy Ships’ Chief Maxillofacial Surgeon, Dr. Gary Parker, in previous Mercy Ships field services. She knew that Aissa could get the reconstructive surgery she needed on the Africa Mercy and helped Aissa, Sarah, and her uncle travel to the ship in Lomè, Togo. Three surgeo