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Life-Changing Treatment Provided Pro Bono at Stony Brook Children's

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Drs. Alexander B. Dagum (left) and Leon S. Klempner with Dunia Sibomana. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

STONY BROOK, NY, January 11, 2016 — Today, 8-year-old Dunia Sibomana of the Congo in Central Africa had the first of a series of operations at Stony Brook Children's Hospital to restore his appearance and facial function. It went well, requiring 16 hours to complete.

The boy lost his lips two years ago when mauled by a chimpanzee. He had been playing by a river near the field where his father was working, when a band of chimps attacked.

Dunia was lucky; he survived the attack while two other kids did not, including his brother. Not only were his lips torn from his face, one cheek was ripped apart. Because of his injuries, Dunia has endured severe difficulty in eating, swallowing, and communicating. Not only that, his injuries led to the boy's isolation in his community.

Now, thanks to the pro bono treatment Dunia will receive at Stony Brook, the boy will have a chance for a much better future when he goes home to his village, which borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is home to large wild populations of both gorillas and chimpanzees.

Today's 16-hour reconstructive procedure, which started in the morning and went into the night, was the first of three or four major operations for Dunia, who was brought from the Congo to Long Island in November with the help of Smile Rescue for Kids.

Dunia will have his lips reconstructed using a technique commonly used in breast reconstructions after mastectomies. A muscle will be implanted on the right side of his face to improve his ability to open and close his mouth.

This reconstructive surgery is being performed by a team directed by Alexander B. Dagum, MD, professor of surgery and orthopaedics, executive vice chair of surgery, and chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery.

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"Dunia lost much of his face — his upper and lower lips," Dr. Dagum told Newsday. "He also lost a finger. He was left disfigured."

Dr. Dagum, who serves as co-director of the Stony Brook Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Center, adds: "I've done multiple complex facial reconstructions in the past. Sometimes with cancer, people will lose the whole upper lip or the lower lip. This case is different because it involves both lips."

In fact, Dunia's case is so rare it is being documented for publication in a surgical journal. The report will certainly contribute to the best ideas in medicine, which is what Stony Brook Medicine is all about.

Dr. Dagum says he believes there are only three other documented cases where the same surgery has been performed.

Dunia's remarkable story was featured recently in Newsday and the New York Times, among other newspapers. In fact, the story has received national and international news coverage from such media outlets as CNN, Associated Press, and Reuters.

Dunia is being housed by Jennifer Crean of Hauppauge, NY, where he is attending school, learning English, and adapting to his new surroundings on Long Island. His encounter with suburban America is nothing less than like a dream.

Dunia is being helped by the non-profit organization founded by orthodontist Leon Klempner, DDS, who is affiliated with Stony Brook's School of Dental Medicine. Called the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids, this humanitarian organization is looking for medical/dental or hospital volunteers for housing and fundraising (donate).

"We're feeling very optimistic," Dr. Klempner explains. "We're hoping after the surgery he'll reintegrate into society and perhaps go back to school or have some semblance of a normal life."

"The work performed at Stony Brook Medicine is often truly transformative for our patients," says Reuven Pasternak, MD, chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital. "Perhaps there is no better example of this than the reconstructive surgery being performed by Alexander Dagum, MD, [for little Dunia Sibomana]." Read more.

Watch this Reuters video (2:24 min) that tells Dunia's story and learn more about his life, his accident, and his treatment at Stony Brook Children's: