Tubmanburg, Bomi County – When Blessing Yah was seven, she accidentally fell in a fire, leaving her with severe scars as her neck remained stuck to her shoulders, making it difficult to impossible for her to oscillate normally.
Now eleven, there is a glimmer of hope for the young girl as a two man surgical team from the United States arrived in the country to treat her on a pro-bono basis.
Dr. Kelvin Strathy is a plastic surgeon while his wife Nathu Strathy is a surgical nurse.
“Blessing was not born like this, but she was seven when she got burn, according to her mother who was at home when it happened,” said Sekou Yah, Blessing’s father.
“Blessing who was sleeping one afternoon, immediately jumped up and started yelling that the devil was coming for her, and she fell into the fire."
"But by the time her mother reached there, she was badly burned that her neck got stuck to her shoulder and became one, but I am very happy that the first surgery is successful, that she can move head small, small.”
Sekou, who lives in neighboring Grand Cape Mount County, said he never thought his daughter would have had the opportunity to undergo a surgery at no expense.
He said a lady who works at the hospital alerted him of the free surgery, prompting to rush his daughter to the hospital.
Blessing is among thousands of people around Liberia who suffer from some form of deformity that can only be solved via plastic surgery, which isn’t available in the country.
But Dr. Kevin Strathy, who has been a plastic surgeon for over thirty years, said Blessing’s case is one of the challenging cases he has come across in Liberia because, according to him, separating the neck from the shoulder is only the beginning of the surgical task.
“She will have to undergo two more surgeries before she is fully reconditioned and be normal,” he mentioned. “Because she was badly burned that the scar affected the skin tissue and veins that all drew in and stuck together, so we just separated the neck from the shoulder and when we return in December, we will do the other two surgeries.”
Dr. Strathy said plastic surgery is acutely expensive around the world, saying the idea of performing free surgeries was birthed by his wife who is a Liberian.
“Our budget is about US$50,000 a year and some come from our pockets while some come from other donors. We work with corporations, and one of my biggest organizations donates pharmaceuticals of good quality to us and we raise money from friends and family members. P
“Plastic surgeries in America and around the world cost tens of thousands of dollars to do them; so I can do it here free, but I cannot do it in the US for free, because it is expensive.
“This is a really expensive endeavor that we put a lot of money into that we raise back home to gather and ship medical supplies, but we are happy to be working with the team here in Bomi that is very wonderful.”
Natu Strathy chirped that the running of the program is quite expensive and as a result they can’t treat everyone.
“From last December to now, I think we have done over 80 surgeries, and we stay a month every time we come. Our support is out of our pockets and our pockets are drying up.
“We put in an application to USAID for financial assistance but we have not heard from them yet, because we are just putting our tentacles out there to see who can help us, because it is very expensive to do plastic surgery worldwide.
“We are hoping that somebody will hear us one day and support what we are doing, because there are many charities around and there are lot a of dishonest ones.”
“So, for people to give their money these days, is really tight, because nobody knows who is telling the truth and who is not.”
“This is why we are doing what we are doing so they can see and know that we are honest people from what we do,” she said.
She disclosed that the Ministry of Health, through Bomi County Health Officer, has always been helping to clear their containers from the port of without paying which, she added, has been a big help to them.
When asked as to whether she and her husband intend moving home and volunteer to help the sick, Natu said they cannot as it is easier to stay in the U.S. and beg for medical supplies and equipment instead of moving home without supplies, revealing that they have a 40ft container on its way to the country which Rep. Edwin Snowe has helped to ship.
Bomi County Medical Officer, Dr. Williametta S. Gibson, who took over from Dr. Gorbee G. Logan after the Ebola, said the hospital is a referral hospital, so they have people coming from Cape Mount, Gbapolu and Montserrado to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Plastic surgery is very expensive and this team is here doing it free of charge, which is a great help to many people. There are many patients with different cases,” she said.
Dr. Gibson added that Tuesdays and Thursdays, are elective surgical cases, for people who have hydroceles and other minor cases, adding that the C-section is the most dominant.