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Saturday, November 19, 2005

AP Worldstream


Dateline: ST. LOUIS

Surgery arranged by relief workers to correct the severe facial deformity of an Indonesian girl was successful and her prognosis was excellent, one of the surgeons said Thursday.

Eight-year-old Mawarni Zega, whose home was partly destroyed by an earthquake in March, underwent the roughly 12-hour, complication-free surgery Wednesday at St. Louis Children's Hospital, pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Leonard said.

Leonard and plastic surgeon Dr. Anna Kuang managed to remove her birth defect known as encephalocele _ a facial bulge caused when a gap in the skull allows brain membranes to protrude. Doctors trimmed away excess skin and used a bone graft from the girl's skull to rebuild the bridge of her nose.

"Everything went just fine," said Leonard, a Healing the Children volunteer. "Overall, I think they'll be very happy with what has occurred. Her prognosis is very good."

While the healing may take some time and "minor touchup surgeries" may follow, Leonard said Mawarni's face "will look dramatically different from what it did."

Leonard said Mawarni, perhaps as soon as Friday, would be moved from intensive care to her own room, and her hospital stay was expected to last at least a week. Doctors were monitoring her for any signs of infection and hoped to remove her breathing tube later Thursday, Leonard said.

Within weeks of her hospitalization, the girl faces another surgery, this time to remove a kidney stone that has enlarged her right kidney without affecting the organ's normal function, Leonard said.

Given the breathing tube, Mawarni has not spoken since the surgery, Leonard said. But in the days leading up to the operation, the girl appeared thrilled about the prospect of being rid of the deformity.

"I would not see America if I did not get this surgery," she said.

The earthquake that destroyed Mawarni's home on Nias Island, off the western coast of Indonesia's main island of Sumatra, came three months after the stronger quake that triggered the Dec. 26 tsunami. That disaster killed at least 175,000 people in 11 Indian Ocean nations, including Mawarni's country. The March quake killed about 900 people and left thousands injured and homeless.

Among the relief efforts was the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy, which was anchored off Nias' coast. Doctors traveled by helicopter to the city of Gunung Sitoli to treat the injured. Among them were Mawarni and her mother, Adilia Zega, who were living in a tent.

Although many surgeries are performed on the USNS Mercy, Mawarni's deformity was too complicated, so an effort was made to bring her to the United States for the operation.

Mawarni _ the daughter of a rubber tree farmer _ is the youngest of 10 children from the village of Hilisebua, in the subdistrict of Gido.

A donor paid air fare for Mawarni, her mother and an interpreter to get to St. Louis, and they've been given a free place to stay at a patients' housing facility.

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