7-year old Grace Kabelenga was born without a forehead but rather a huge hole in its place. She had her first surgery at 4-years when a large part of her skull was removed to prevent infection.
As a result of her craniofacial abnormality, Grace never enrolled in school, didn’t have friends to play with as a little push or fall will kill her since the entire front section of her skull was missing and her brain was completely unprotected under the skin of her forehead.
But recently, Grace who hails from Ndola in Zambia has undergone pioneering surgery using 3D-printed technology (a state of the art surgery in South Africa) to have a specially constructed forehead implanted into her skull to encourage the bone to grow.
Grace mom, Ngula said:
When she was born she was rushed to a children’s hospital. There was so many doctors but they told us they couldn’t do anything because it was beyond their ability.
Grace had a cranio-facial abnormality. The eyes, the nostrils, the mouth they were all far apart. The nostrils were actually 13 centimetres apart. The brain was suspended and stuck to the hard palette on her mouth. You could physically see it outside just covered by a thin skin.
The father, Elijah Kabenlenga had explained.
Grace’s face had been forced apart by an encephalocele; a defect in which a small part of the brain peeks through an opening in the skull, splitting open her face down the middle. It destroyed the base of the skull meaning there was a hole in the roof of her mouth where her brain was hanging.
Grace’s first life-changing surgery happened in Argentina. It took six months in to get her physically and mentally ready. She was being treated by nutritionists to increase her size and strength, after which Grace was considered ready for the 21-hour surgery that helped lifted her brain and rebuilt her face.
American surgeon Dr Kenneth Salyer, founder of the World Craniofacial Foundation, who stepped in to help Grace, said:
The reason to operate was to save her life, she couldn’t live that way and would not survive long term.
Now at 7-years, Grace’s face has healed, still without bone in her forehead. Although, she constantly wears a padded helmet as only a thin layer of skin protects her brain.