She is 7 years old now, her mother explains, and is showing a little of the reserve that is part of growing up. But she’s still spunky and bounces around.
Yeabsra and her mother, Aynalem Adugna, will meet with surgeons at the Hospital for Sick Children this week to prepare for the next stage of facial reconstruction surgery. This time, they will build a new nose for Yeabsra. Last April, in a 12-hour operation, doctors cut her skull into four pieces and put it back together in repairing a complex disfigurement. Her eyes are now closer together and the cleft that left her gums in a sharp V is almost perfectly straightened. It’s a big step forward.
In Grade 2 now, Yeabsra is more aware that she is different, her mother said Sunday. “She doesn’t want to see herself in a mirror.”
She asks her mother why children stare at her. “But deep down Yeabsra is happy,” Adugna adds, speaking through a translator.
With a deeply supportive family, Yeabsra has always been a confident child, though her mother fears that will be eroded as classmates become more intolerant of physical differences. Though the family can scarcely afford it, Adugna sent Yeabsra to private school, hoping it would offer a more protective environment where kids were less likely to make fun of her.
At the arrivals hall in Terminal Three at Pearson Airport, Yeabsra showed her independent spirit, as she wandered off in search of her friend, Laura Lewis-Watts from Transforming Faces Worldwide, the charity that is sponsoring her in Toronto. Walking away for a moment, Yeabsra came back to her mother holding a $20 bill that a woman had just given her. “I said thank you,” she said.
Wearing a long dress and a pink ski jacket, she asked her mother to put on snow boots to replace the sandals she was wearing. “I can’t tie shoes yet,” she explained in English.
The Herbie Fund at Sick Kids is paying for her hospital care, while private donors have raised money for their airline tickets.
Last spring, Dr. Christopher Forrest, chief of plastic surgery at Sick Kids, asked Yeabsra what she would like him to do for her. “She said she wants her nose replaced,” Adugna said shortly after they arrived from Addis Ababa, their country’s capital. “Even if she didn’t want that, I want my daughter to be able to be with other kids. I don’t want her to be different.”
She has tried not to talk to Yeabsra about the operations that will lie ahead. “I don’t want her to be worried, but I think she knows.”
As Yeabsra cavorted nearby, Adugna added: “I want my daughter to have a bright future and be able to play with her friends at school in the playground.”