Warning: Due to the extreme disfigurement of this story's subject, readers may find some of the images disturbing.
Yahya El Jabaly is a three-year-old boy who lives near Tangier in Morocco. He was born missing parts of his face. Due to prenatal issues that prevented his bones from fusing together in a normal way, he has no eyes, no upper jaw, and there is a hole where his nose should be.
Because of this, he faces innumerable challenges in his daily life. In addition to being blind, he can’t speak and therefore doesn't play with other children in his village. His parents cover his face when they are out in public to protect him from people staring. The family tried everything to find a surgeon who would agree to reconstruct their boy’s face, but it looked hopeless. Everyone they spoke to said the operation was too risky and that Yahya might die. Even without the risks of surgery, because so much of Yahya's internal flesh is exposed, he is always at serious risk of infection.
However, through the power of the internet, all of that was about to change. One day, a friend of Yahya’s father took the initiative to post picture of the child on Facebook asking for help.
After months of waiting, an answer arrived from the other side of the planet. Fatima Baraka, a fellow Moroccan who was living in Australia, was moved by the story of the little boy who lived not far from where she was born. Having herself recently survived breast cancer, she decided to try and help the El Jabalya family.
Fatima contacted a renowned surgeon in Australia, Tony Holmes, known in particular for having successfully separated conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna from Bangladesh. To Fatima's delight, the doctor accepted the mission.
"I believe that it’s the right of everybody to look human and this kid doesn’t look human," Dr. Holmes said.
Fatima’s generosity didn't end there. She provided accommodation for the family in Australia during the period of treatment and raised money to pay for the cost of surgery. The family was flown to Melbourne, where they met Fatima and the doctor.
Fatima said, "He came into my heart, I’m in love with this little boy... I don’t see a deformed child; I just see this beautiful little child, a beautiful little soul, that’s all I see."
Little Yahya had to endure a battery of tests to be sure he could withstand the operation. Luckily, he passed all of the medical checks and the extreme craniofacial reconstruction was soon scheduled. Dr. Holmes planned to rejoin the two parts of the front of his skull and to shape a nose. Since Yahya's vocal chords were intact, this might give him the chance to speak.
The operation was very complicated and risky, even for this top Australian surgeon. He was determined to help, but knew that there was a chance little boy could die if there were unforeseen complications.
"My biggest concern [was] whether or not he is suitable for surgery, we really do not know how he is functioning and how the brain is functioning," Dr. Holmes said.
The first operation lasted some 20 hours and built Yahya a new face.
As you can see, the outcome is quite extraordinary.
After 18 months in Australia, the five-year-old boy is now back home.
There are still several other smaller operations for Yahya to go through as part of the reconstruction, but still, his quality of life has improved immeasurably. Thanks to the talents of a dedicated surgical team and, above all, the generosity and love of a stranger a world away, Yahyah doesn't need to cover his face any more, but can be fearless and proud of who he is.
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