Meet Noor, a Noma survivor

Posted by Francesca Rutherford on Wednesday 8th February 2017

Alex Chapman, Chair of Trustees


During my most recent visit, I was lucky enough to join one of the complex surgical missions where surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses from the UK and Ireland volunteer their expertise to operate on victims of Noma and others suffering severe facial disfigurements. Here, I met Noor.



Noor is a remarkable young man I met on my trip. He had survived Noma and had been left with a significant disfigurement on the left hand side of his face. Unlike many other Noma survivors, twenty-five year old Noor had managed to stay in school and is currently studying Computer Science.

Before his operation we spoke together for some time. His command of English was fairly good and it was clear that he was determined to make a good life for himself despite what had happened to him. He explained to me that he had been told his condition was gangrenous so he had used a computer to research the word and discovered he had Noma. After further research, he found out about the complex surgical missions organised by one of our partners and travelled three days by bus to reach their team in Addis.

Noor had received previous surgery elsewhere when skin from his tongue had been taken to repair his lip and the hole in his face. Unfortunately, the operation had been done poorly and had left him with terrible scar tissue which would be impossible to repair.

Noor’s surgeon explained to me that this is a common problem. Noma survivors are so desperate that they seek help from poorly-qualified doctors or resort to traditional healers. One particular healer is known to use Sulphuric acid to try and ‘cure’ the Noma, with horrific consequences.

Later that morning I was invited into the operating theatre to watch Noor’s surgery. It was called ‘Radial Artery Free Flap’. Two surgeons worked together to cut out the Noma damage and scar tissue around the mouth and replace it with a flap taken from Noor’s arm. The operation took 6 hours, and witnessing it was not for the faint-hearted! But I was fascinated to see the surgeons deftly navigating arteries, tendons and muscles to rebuild Noor’s face with such skill and craftsmanship.

That evening, I returned to the ward to see Noor. Although he was still groggy from the anaesthetic and swollen, he seemed very pleased with the outcome. As I left Noor, I couldn’t help wondering what the future will hold for him. Returning home with a new face will give Noor new confidence and opportunities, and judging by his tenacity and determination to find himself help in the first place, I am sure he will go far. 

Noor spent a month receiving post-operative care, before taking the long bus journey home. Just recently we heard that Noor has settled back into his life and is healing well. The operation was a lifechanging success.

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