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Ayan Mohamed’s long wait for facial reconstruction almost over


Ayan Mohamed, a shy, 25 year old Somali woman, will have surgery in Brisbane on Friday to repair horrific damage caused by a gunshot wound to the face.


Ayan Mohamed’s eyes dart around the room, taking everything in.

For a 25-year-old who has only just ridden an escalator for the first time 30 hours ago, the room, with its journalists, well wishers and Wesley Hospital staff is a lot to take in.

She cannot understand the buzz of English words that fly around her. But she knows she is the reason for the buzz, that every voice in the room speaks about her.

Her eyes express everything she is thinking.

Since gunshot injuries, received when she was just two years old, destroyed the right side of her face, robbing her of the ability to eat and drink properly and close one of her eyes, her eyes, a deep brown, are all she has shown the world.

Until Saturday.

Then, a team of doctors and specialists, who are giving their time and expertise freely, will fill a donated Wesley Hospital theatre room to rebuild what the Somali civil war took away.

Once they are finished, Ms Mohamed will not only see her entire face for the first time, she will be free to remove her veil and show her toddler daughter, Morwa, what her mother looks like.

It will be a moment that has been a lifetime in the making.

Eleven years ago, Ms Mohamed’s mother took her to the Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland, to see if the newly established facility could do anything for her daughter.

There she met Edna Adan Ismail, who had established the hospital to combat infant and maternal mortality in her homeland. Mrs Ismail removed Ms Mohamed’s veil and saw what the ravages of war had done to the child. She said she looked into her eyes and promised her she would do everything she could to help.

“After many attempts and many, many, many failures, over 11 years, the Rotary Clubs of your country, of Brisbane, have finally made it happen,” Mrs Ismail said.

“It has been a long journey for us. She is now the mother of a two-year-old daughter. I am very emotional and very appreciative that this long journey is going to give a young woman her face back.”

Dr John Arvier, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the Wesley Hospital, who has worked with patients from developing countries through the Rotary Oceania Medical Aid of Children program, learnt of Ms Mohamed’s case through a fellow Rotary Club member, Ken Parker.

As Ms Mohamed was too old to qualify for ROMAC assistance, a fundraising mission was launched. Money and assistance came from all over the world. Documents were flown back and forth across the globe. When the lack of a postal service in Somaliland threatened to hold up the process, local networks were established to ensure delivery. Ms Mohamed made the 1400 kilometre journey from her small town to Ethiopia for medical tests time and time again. Those results were sent back to the Australian medical and dental team, who worked out a surgery plan. It wasn’t perfect – documents were lost and had to be re-sent. Travel in the developing nation took time. Two years. But finally everything was in place.

Then the Gillard government denied Ms Mohamed a medical visa, on the grounds her condition was not life threatening.

“The first visa denied was from the United States,” Mrs Ismail said.

“And that was hard. And then when the visa was denied for a second time in Australia, we just thought ‘who is going to have the courage to tell Ayan?’. We had to absorb this for a day and a half before we could to tell her. But we had to tell her. It was not easy. Here is a woman who is only begging to have medical treatment, that she is not able to access anywhere else.

“I am so glad that the decision was reversed, thanks to many people, many people.”

While Rotary and a volunteer legal team worked to find a way, online petitions were launched to lobby the federal government to change its mind. A second visa application was made in October and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison approved it in January.

The medical team mobilised and arrangements were put in place to bring Ms Mohamed to Brisbane immediately.

Since touching down, Ms Mohamed has seen her first river. She has quickly mastered riding escalators, entered her first lift and watched tropical fish swim around a tank in awe. She has been embraced by the local Somaliland community, who will help care for her the week after she is released from hospital. And she has been shown a 3-D model of her skull and learnt how doctors will piece her cheek, chin, teeth and eye socket back together, using implants and skin from her forearm in a day long operation.

It is a lot to take in. But speaking through Mrs Ismail, Ms Mohamed said she was not scared.

“She is a brave woman,” Mrs Ismail said

“She has had to live with this for a long time. She is confident in the expertise available here is the best and there is no solution for her anywhere else. There could not be a better place for her to be.

“She is very relaxed. I am the one who is falling apart.”

Ms Mohamed will spend the week following her operation recovering in hospital. Her doctors expect to be able to give an update on Tuesday.

Source: Brisbane Times
Photo: Amy Remeikis

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