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Maimed African Teen Journeys to America for Life Changing Surgery

KATU/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- In 2007, Blessing Makwera found a device with wires sticking out of it in his native country of Zimbabwe.  Not knowing what the device was, the then 15-year-old placed it in his mouth.  It exploded, causing him to lose his jaw, teeth and part of his tongue.  The device was a landmine.

Makwera had the majority of his jaw removed and tried to recover in a hospital in Zimbabwe for two months, with only a piece of piano wire holding his jaw in place.   

“Initially I felt like I wasn’t a normal human being in my community after the accident,” Makwera told ABC News.  “After the surgery I was in a lot of pain for four months -- there was no doctor there, and no one that can do the surgery, and I thought there was no way I am going to be normal again.”

After hearing Makwera’s story, Operation of Hope, a non-profit organization that provides surgical care, healthcare and medical training programs in under-served areas of the world -- along with then 12-year-old Portland, Ore., native Hayden Skoch -- decided to take action.

“We met Blessing and everyone fell in love with him,” said Jennifer Trubenbach, president of Operation of Hope.  “The doctor who operated initially took away probably more than he needed to, and luckily it was able to heal, but it was a miracle he was able to survive.  He had a wash cloth on his chest, and he just drooled and drooled, so we worked on getting that corrected first by removing the wire holding his jaw and creating a better structure.  Basically we got him out of a bad situation of living, and gave him the opportunity to go to a private school in Habari, Africa, the city we do our operations in.”

Skoch, now 16, who heard about Makwera’s story from a family friend associated with Operation of Hope, also wanted to help.  She arranged for the profits made at her middle school dance to be used to create a fund to get Makwera sent to the U.S. for post-operative care.  She raised $1,100.

“It was that even though he was far away he was another kid who was my age and I just thought his story was so amazing and I couldn’t relate to any story like that in my life or in the U.S.  And the story was so amazing to me that I was compelled to be involved and help out,” Skoch said.

With both Operation of Hope and Skoch’s help, Makwera was able to finish high school in Africa.  He then traveled to the U.S. for the first of three surgeries two months ago in San Diego.

“We were able to find a hospital to donate their hospital and surgeons to help him,” Trubenbach said.  “They took a bone out of his leg and rebuilt his jaw, and it ended up being a 13-hour surgery.”

Makwera is now living in Portland with Stephen Clawson, Trubenbach's brother and vice president of Operation of Hope, and volunteering as a teacher’s aide at private school in Oregon.  

Makwera still has two more surgeries, the second slated for mid-June.  He is expected to be about “80 percent back to his original form after the third and final surgery,” Trubenbach said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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