Uganda acid victim to undergo op here to treat severe injuries

Last month, Ms Namale Allen flew to Singapore from Uganda hoping that a prominent eye surgeon here could restore her sight after a brutal acid attack left her blind and horribly disfigured.

Unfortunately, her cornea, eyeballs and optic nerves were too severely damaged for osteo-odonto- keratoprosthesis (OOKP), her best shot at regaining her sight. Also known as "tooth-in-eye" surgery, OOKP involves reconstructing a new eye with a tiny plastic lens and one of the patient's own teeth.

However, the former hair- dresser's trip, made possible by donations from good Samaritans and readers after her story appeared in The Straits Times in August, will not be in vain.

On Thursday, a team of surgeons from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) will be operating on her to relieve some of the complications which have been plaguing her since she was attacked in May last year.

A young man she did not know flung a large amount of acid at the 27-year-old, who was then five months pregnant, outside her home in Kampala - the capital city of Uganda - one evening.

The attack melted Ms Allen's facial features and blinded her. Her eyes are now two pinholes and she needs plugs to breathe through her collapsed nose.

Her neck, arms and shoulders are covered with large keloids, making movement difficult and painful.

Ms Allen's attacker was never caught.

Her husband also abandoned her and her two young daughters, including one-year-old Janat whom she has never seen.

After her story broke in this newspaper, readers raised about $80,000 through several online donation drives so that she could come to Singapore for treatment.

Her operation on Thursday is the first of a series of surgical procedures to treat her severe injuries.

A multi-disciplinary team will be involved, including plastic surgeons, anaesthesiologists and occupational therapists.

Plastic surgeon Cheong Ee Cherk told The Sunday Times that keloids have resulted in extensive scarring on Ms Allen's face, neck, upper body and limbs.

He said: "This has also severely limited the availability of unscarred donor sites for any reconstructive procedures.

"We hope to be able to improve her severely restricted neck and mouth movements by releasing and excising her neck and chest scars with skin grafting. We will also revise the scars of her cheek and around her mouth to help with her very limited mouth opening."

Humanitarian and social activist Lynsay Lewis, who accompanied her to Singapore, said: "A large part of the scar on her neck will actually be excised and an artificial dermis will be used to graft over that excised scar area."

"The risks of this procedure include blood loss, graft loss (the graft doesn't take), infection of site (which will result in graft loss) and recurrence of the scar again after the surgery," added Ms Lewis, who is the founder of Upasuaji Africa, a charity promoting surgical education in East Africa.

The medical team is donating their time, but Ms Allen, who is expected to be hospitalised for a month, will have to pay for other charges and expenses.

Although she is worried about going under the knife, she said: "I believe they will do the best they can."

She knows there will be a lot of hard work ahead to heal and restore mobility after the procedures.

"I'm ready because I really want to get well."

This article was first published on October 25, 2015.
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