Flora is 10 years old.  She fell into hot cooking oil when she was 2 years old.  As she has gotten older, the burned skin around her lips has contracted closing the opening of her mouth smaller and smaller with each passing year.  She now has trouble eating and has to be fed with very small spoons.  She loves to laugh, but now it hurts for her to laugh so she doesn’t.

She sat in the waiting room, nervous, with big eyes that darted around the room until she caught your eye and then would immediately look down, as if ashamed.  Although her face is almost completely covered in burn scars, she is quite obviously beautiful.

When it was her turn to walk into the operating room, she marched slowly between Rebecca Orlando (CRNA) and me, with her colorful quilt slowly slipping off her tentative shoulders.  It’s as if we were her two older sisters shepherding her to the necessary event that stood between her and her laugh.

Rebecca lifted her onto the operating table and placed the mask on her face.  Salman Dasti (Anesthesiologist) held her little, burned hands to comfort her as Rebecca sung Flora a quiet lullaby to sleep:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

And like that, she slipped into a deep sleep.  Jann Johnson operated on her mouth.  With very loving and precise hand strokes, Jann freed the outer corners of Flora’s lips.  Such a simple surgery to give a young girl her smile back. [Pictured, L->R: Jann Johnson (Surgeon), local Arushan nurse, Alirameen Akram (Medical Records), and Steve Brozosky (Quartermaster)].

As she recovered in the PACU, Flora’s first line of business- a big yawn!  [Pictured: Jean Petro (Lead PACU Nurse) and Flora]. How good it must have felt to finally be able to do something, so simple for the rest of us, like yawn.  Her tongue explored the new diameter of her mouth and, although she is out of practice with being able to give a big smile, her eyes told the story of her joy.  Her mother smiled broadly at Flora and all of us, saying, “Beautiful work.  We are forever grateful that you’ve given Flora this gift.”