Published on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 00:00
Written by Cheryl Teo Kai Lin
Last year, three-year-old Yahya El Jabaly moved many Australians to tears with his story of being born with no eyes, a hole in the middle of his face where his nose should be and no upper jaw. So much so that one very amazing Melbourne woman managed to fly him in to Australia to undergo reconstructive surgery.
The Moroccan-born toddler, who lived in a small village six hours from Casablanca before he was flown to Australia for the life changing surgery was born with extreme facial deformities after complications in the womb stopped the bones in his face from fusing together. It is already a miracle as it is that he managed to live this long despite having a gaping hole in his face.
Now, after undergoing a nail-biting 18-hour life changing operation, the miracle child has been given a new lease in life thanks to Melbourne doctors who remodeled the bones in his face.
Despite his incredibly rare condition, Yahya defied all odds by surviving in the womb and managed to grow into a happy and healthy toddler. However, he was a social outcast in his hometown and his parents had to keep him hidden away from public eyes, believing his appearance could be too disturbing for some.
When they go out, they will cover little Yahya up and due to the lack of roofing in his mouth, he was unable to speak and could only communicate through grunting noises.
Upon seeing their son's new face for the first time after Dr. Tony Holmes – who is famous for successfully separating Bangladashi-born conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna – spent nearly a day on his intricate surgery, his parents broke down and cried tears of joy and relief.
“It's a huge joy, a huge happiness to see my son in such a situation,” Yahya's father, Mostafa, said.
The surgery was intially estimated to take up to eight hours but stretched to over 18 long, grueling hours during which Yahya lost nearly half of the blood from his body and had the lining of his brain dissected from his skull.
Yahya after the surgery
A team of surgeons worked in shift rotation and the pricey surgery was funded partly by donations and doctors who offered their services free of charge. Yahya's plight first went global when the father of his closest friend took to Facebook, pleading for medical professionals to help the boy lead a normal life. The post went viral as everyone started sharing the little boy's unfortunate story, and it eventually reached Fatima Baraka, a Melbourne breast cancer survivor who was born in a village close to Yahya's.
Ms. Baraka took it upon herself to search for a surgeon who would be willing to transform Yahya's face and soon found Melbourne reconstructive surgeon, Tony Holmes.
Fatima Baraka took it upon herself to seek out a solution for the little boy that was born without a face
She then personally travelled to Yahya's home where she met the toddler and his family for the first time before bringing them to Australia.
“I just can't believe what he's been through and how he just comes out and gets better and better every time,” Ms. Baraka remarked two weeks after Yahya's successful facial surgery. “He looks like a normal little boy. He's a very smart little kid, he's got so much potential, there's no reason for him not to have a good, healthy bright future.”
Ms. Baraka said the little boy “entered her heart” and she instantly fell in love with him however she admits she was “quite shocked” when she first met Yahya and his family.
“I was a little bit horrified to be honest,” she added honestly.
Yahya went through an intensive series of tests to determine his eligibility for the reconstructive surgery
Yahya and his parents met Dr. Holmes after being flown to Melbourne where the three-year-old underwent a range of developmental test from CT scans to MRI's to confirm how his brain functioned and if he was suitable for surgery.
A look into Yahya's facial bones prior to surgery
Despite the potentially fatal risks involved, Dr. Homes agreed to operate on the toddler.
“I think this one is about as difficult as it gets. A 9.5-out-of-10 degree of difficulty,” Dr. Holmes said. “Yahya may not die if we don't operate but he might if we do. I believe that it's the right of everybody to look human and this kid doesn't look human.”
Yahya underwent surgery in December, when Dr. Holmes brought the two sides of his skull together and built him a nose with his own skin.
Yahya on the operating table
There is also a chance that the toddler will be able to speak after the procedure due to his vocal chords remaining intact.
“We're not experimenting on him, we want to get a good result,” Dr. Holmes said before the surgery.
Speaking after Yahya came out of surgery Dr Holmes was ecstatic at the results and delighted at his parent's reactions.
“When they first saw him you could just tell that they were just stunned and so happy,” he said.
Just weeks after being on the operating table, Yahya's face was healing, he was smiling and he even seemed to be humming a tune.
Yahya playing beside his new baby sister
“The risks of the operation were great but I think they were worth it so that he could have a decent life,” Dr Holmes said.
Five weeks after the surgery Yahya's parent's welcomed a new addition into their family after his mother gave birth to a baby girl.
After initially being afraid she may suffer from the same deformed facial features as Yahya they were relieved when she was given the all clear.
While the inspirational little boy still needs some prosthetic eyes and more surgery on his nose, he is learning to walk and his life has changed forever.
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