Dunia Sibomana, an 8-year-old Congolese boy, was attacked by a group of chimpanzees in Congo two years ago. Dunia is scheduled for a rare facial reconstruction surgery at the Stony Brook Children's Hospital in Long Island, New York.
Dunia was then playing with his four-year-old brother and cousin near a nature preserve in their hometown. The brutal attack left his brother and cousin dead. Dunia survived but was severely injured. One of his cheeks was torn apart and his lips were ripped off.
Dunia also lost part of his ear and one finger. Due to the facial disfigurement, the boy drools a lot and struggles when speaking and eating.
The villagers in his Congo hometown avoided him because of his disfigurement, said Stony Brook Children's Hospital's Dr. Leon Kkempner. Dunia tried to attend school in Congo but the painful experience was too much to bear. Klempler's non-profit organization "Smile Rescue Fund For Kids" helped bring Dunia to the U.S. for the facial reconstruction surgery.
Without lips, it's very hard for Dunia to swallow and chew food. He has to tilt his head back whenever he eats. Dunia also can't make certain sounds when speaking.
Doctors find Dunia's case a challenging one. Many lip reconstruction surgeries are done by borrowing tissue from an existing lip to reconstruct the other one. In Dunia's case, they have nothing to work with so the doctor's came up with another plan.
"We take the radial forearm skin, with a blood vessel and with a sensory nerve, and we bring it up here to give him new tissue for his lips," explained Stony Brook's Chief of Plastic Surgery Dr. Alexander Dagum.
Dagum's team of surgeons will work on the eight-hour lip reconstruction surgery early next week. The entire process could take three to four surgeries in the course of the next six to eight months.
Getting the reconstructed lips to have movement and sensation is the most difficult part. Dagum is positive that the team will succeed in giving Dunia new lips that are functional and cosmetically acceptable.
How The Attack Happened
The Congolese boys were playing at the river near Virunga, Africa's oldest national park. Virunga is the home of the mountain gorilla, a critically endangered species. Poaching leaves many mountain gorillas without parents to care for them.
Dunia's village is located very close to the chimpanzee's territory, which probably makes the animals think it is part of their space. Klempner theorized that the abundance of poaching-related violence in the park makes the primates think of humans as their enemies.
Dunia's father was working in a nearby field. He wasn't able to hear the boys scream because of the river's roar. When he finally came to look for the boys, Dunia's father first found the mutilated remains of his then four-year-old son.
When he located Dunia, he took him immediately to the park rangers for medical help. Park ranger Andre Bauma helped them bring the case to Klempner's organization.
Life In The U.S.
Klempner highlighted that Dunia's physical injuries were bad enough but the psychosocial impact are worse. Dunia attended school in Congo after recovering from his initial injuries Due to his facial injuries, the kids laughed at him which made him leave school. His doctors are also hoping that Dunia would come out of the painful isolation and regain the lost self-confidence.
Dunia is currently living in Long Island, New York with a host family. The boy was warmly welcomed by his foster family and even by the local elementary school's teachers and students.
Dunia is getting some help from a Swahili-speaking interpreter. He has learned some basic English and seems to enjoy the American food favorites. He also received several gifts last Christmas. It seemed that the boy is already starting to recover.
After five weeks of living in the U.S., Dunia seemed more energetic. He was wearing a scarf around his face when he first arrived in the U.S. Dunia has removed the scarf and has gone horseback riding and bowling in New York City.