Success Story: Saline Atieno

Saline is a young girl who lives in the Nyanza Province of Kenya. She was the third child born to her parents, but due to one sibling’s recent death, there are only two remaining. At the age of 3, she began suffering from an ‘unknown disease’. Her parents sought medical care from local dispensaries and later at a district hospital, but due to financial constraints (both parents are peasant farmers) they were unable to pay for treatment.

She was diagnosed with Noma, derived from the Greek “nomein” meaning “to devour”. It is a devastating bacterial necrosis that develops in the mouth and ravages the faces of its victims. It destroys both the soft and bone tissues of the face and mostly affects young children between the ages of two and six. Often called “the face of poverty, poor hygiene and malnutrition have been linked to this disease and the fatality rate is 90%. Saline has difficulty eating and is prone to further infection, however it is the social ramifications that are the most damaging.

One of Smile Train’s regional directors contacted Leon about support for Saline after meeting her on a recent trip. Saline’s parents heard of a Smile Train visit and went to the local hospital hospital hoping that the cost of Saline’s surgery would be covered. Unfortunately, her condition was too severe to be funded by any of the world known charities.

The Smile Rescue Fund for Kids sprung into action, working it out for Saline to come to New York and have her surgeries conducted by Dr. Alexander Degum, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Stony Brook Hospital on Long Island in New York. With his help, along with many generous volunteers and donors in the area, Saline had all the surgeries she needed and is back at home. She now attends boarding school, a result of another helpful donation, and is thriving there with her new smile.