A new US citizen from Ethiopia, Marie Gebrewold, received life-changing surgery on her jaw at no cost thanks to Operation Smile and its volunteer doctors who performed reconstructive procedures that would heal a decades-old injury, its lingering pain and emotional distress.
Mariea was born in Ethiopia. When she was only six-months-old, she fell out of her bed and broke both of her hands. However, no one noticed that she had also broken her jaw. As she grew, it became increasingly misaligned, affecting her speech and ability to eat. At age six, her parents took her to a specialist, who instructed them to wait a few years and then pursue treatment. Meanwhile, Marie suffered not only discomfort in eating and headaches, but also endured teasing from other children. After two to three years, her parents revisited the specialist, but at that point they could not afford surgery.
When she was a few years older, a group of physicians from Europe and the United States came to Ethiopia and offered to perform surgery. Through the pre surgical process, they discovered Marie had diabetes. As the physicians could not remain for follow up care after the surgery, the medical team made the decision that due to her diabetic condition, the risk for surgery was too great.
When Marie came to the U.S. at age 21, she was referred by Catholic Charities to dentist Dr. Patrick Kildea. With the assistance of Operation Smile, for which Kildea volunteers, he was able to pull together a dedicated team of doctors and resources for her to have the long awaited surgery at no cost.
Now 28-years-old, Marie, who lives in Wheaton, Maryland, is a very personable, smart, clinic nursing leadership student. However, she feels uncomfortable in social situations because people always ask “what happened to your jaw?”
When asked how she felt when she found out she would be getting surgery, Marie said, “When Dr. Kildea called me and told me that they have everything on hand, I cried, I didn’t have any words to express because I knew how this affected me in my childhood.” She added, “At some point I just gave up, I said okay maybe this is not happening for some reason. Maybe it is not the will of God. And Dr. Kildea, all the time he’d follow-up on the process…and always give me updates. He would say ‘don’t be disappointed, there will be a time when we have everything together, and this will happen, so don’t give up.’ He gave me all the hope throughout the whole five or six years. He is such a nice person.”
On May 15, a team of medical professionals led by Dr. Stephen Baker performed reconstructive surgery on Marie. Dr. Baker repositioned the jaw, and then filled in with fat grafts and tissue on the side where the jaw bone was shorter. Then he repositioned her chin correctly.
In addition to Dr. Kildea’s dentistry component and Dr. Baker’s major orthognathic surgery component, there are many other doctors who also helped. In 2004, Dr. Richard Giulani, donated his time and performed four teeth extractions and gave her braces. Dr. Peter Coccaro, donated the pre and post hospital orthodontics. Also, Dr. Eda Elbirlik, Dr. Pirooz Zia, and Dr. Tom Ollerhead donated pre and post surgical endodontics.