After Five-Year Effort, Operation of Hope Partners with SHARP Hospital, San Diego to Provide Surgery
PR Log - Jan 31, 2013 - LAKE FOREST, Calif. -- Blessing Makwera from Zimbabwe had always been curious about how things ticked. Being a son of a mechanic, anything that could be plugged in, filled with fuel or wound-up by hand, Blessing would take apart and put it back together. When Blessing was 15, he inadvertently connected a set of wires to a detonator and then connected the ends of the wires to a cell phone battery. Wanting to free his hands, Blessing placed the detonator in his mouth. In a moment that would forever change his life, the detonator exploded and destroyed his jawbone, teeth, tongue and lips.
Operation of Hope is a U.S. based volunteer surgical team that has been donating surgeries around the world for 25 years. In 2009, the team was donating a facial reconstructive surgical mission in Zimbabwe to help those afflicted with birth defects such as cleft-lips and cleft-palates. After hearing about Operation of Hope on Zimbabwe’s only radio station, Blessing took a six-hour bus ride into town so he could meet this team of volunteer surgeons. Deep down, Blessing wished for a surgery that would help him chew his food so he could do more than drink tea and eat water-soaked beans. Plus, he was tired of wiping the constant drool that dripped from a notch in his lower lip. When Operation of Hope’s volunteer doctors screened Blessing in Africa, they discovered through x-rays that his jaw was actually held together with what looked like piano wire and that his tongue, which was severely damaged by the explosion, prevented him from speaking clearly.
In a few weeks, Blessing will take his very first airplane ride to America where CNN will continue their coverage of Blessing’s story that has been featured on CNN’s ‘Inside Africa, hosted by Isha Sesay.’ In this series of documentaries that aired throughout Europe and Africa, producer Jessica Ellis documents Blessing’s situation and discovered something very interesting along the way. Blessing we learn, wants to be a facial reconstructive surgeon. In the CNN footage, Blessing explains in a garbled voice as subtitles roll across the bottom of the screen, “I want to be a reconstructive surgeon so I can help people who are in similar situations as mine.”
Operation of Hope President, Jennifer Trubenbach recalls meeting Blessing at Harare Central Hospital in Zimbabwe. “Blessing is a bigger than life kid. He has this contagious enthusiasm, a thirst for learning and carries an innocent sense of humor which people adore. I remember how his face lit up when we told him that we would try to find a hospital with highly trained free-flap surgeons, specialized equipment and the needed resources to have his jawbone and teeth replaced. We told him that his tongue and lips would be surgically repaired, allowing him to chew, swallow and speak more clearly.”
Five long years later, Jennifer connected with SHARP Hospital in San Diego. Partnering with SHARP’s facial reconstructive surgeons Dr. Berger and Dr. Vechionne, Jennifer was able to send a sweet and simple note to Blessing’s Facebook page. “Dear Blessing...we found a hospital here in the U.S. which is willing to donate your surgery and I promise to take care of you!” Blessing wrote back, “Cool! .. and I know you will. You have since the day we met.” Blessing’s father the mechanic added with emotion, “I am short of words, Jen. Only God knows how I feel.”