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Reconstructive

Leon Klempner poses with Dunia Sibomana in front of the Christmas tree. Photo from Amy Epstein

The last two years have been rough for Dunia Sibomana, but now that he has been brought to the United States for reconstructive surgery, everything could change.

Since the 8-year-old was disfigured in a chimpanzee attack — the same one that killed his younger brother — he had stopped going to school because the other children in his native Congo ridiculed him. And being extremely poor, he came to America weighing only 40-something pounds, although the typical weight for a boy his age is almost double that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Above, Dunia Sibomana and park ranger Andre Bauma both give a thumbs-up for school. Photo from Amy Epstein
Above, Dunia Sibomana and park ranger Andre Bauma both give a thumbs-up for school. Photo from Amy Epstein

Despite all he has gone through, volunteers from the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids said Dunia is still a sweet kid.

That group, founded by Poquott resident Dr. Leon Klempner, who until recently was an orthodontist based in Port Jefferson, is hosting Dunia on Long Island and will care for him through a series of surgeries to reconstruct his lips and cheek.

Klempner started his nonprofit organization a few years ago to care for kids with severe facial deformities who are often ignored by similar groups that repair simpler issues like cleft lips.

Dunia lost both his lips and has scarring on his cheeks after the chimpanzee attack two years ago on the outskirts of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, near that country’s border with Uganda and Rwanda. While his father was working in the fields, he was playing with his friends and his 4-year-old brother, Klempner said. The chimps “killed and completely dismembered” the brother, but a ranger fortunately found Dunia and rushed him to the hospital.

“He refused to go to school after the injury because the kids were just ridiculing him too much,” the Poquott man said. “He lost most of his friends.”

Dunia Sibomana hugs Eian Crean while playing with Collin Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana hugs Eian Crean while playing with Collin Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein

Smile Rescue Fund stepped in, bringing Dunia and that park ranger, Andre Bauma, stateside. Bauma was acting as a translator for Dunia, who only speaks Swahili, and helping him get settled with his Hauppauge host family, the Creans, but had to return to Congo last week.

Jennifer Crean said Dunia is getting along well with her three children, ages 10, 12 and 15.

“They have fun with him and he loves them,” she said. “So far so good.”

The family has taught him how to swing at the Hoyt Farm playground in Commack and taken him horseback riding, Crean said. Dunia has also played on an iPad, learned about Santa Claus and gone bowling.

“Everything for him is like brand new. It’s pretty cool.”

After the holidays, when things have slowed down, Crean said, the plan is to take him into New York City to see the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Dunia’s experiences here deeply contrast with his life back home — Klempner said the boy’s mother died when he was a toddler and his father is indigent, picking up work wherever he can, so they don’t have a home. And there’s not much food to go around.

Dunia Sibomana laughs with Grace Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana laughs with Grace Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein

At his temporary Hauppauge home, “He eats like a horse,” Klempner said. “He eats as much as Jenn’s teenage son.”

He’s also recently started instruction at Hauppauge’s Pines Elementary School, where he’s in the second grade. Klempner noted the biggest benefit of school is that Dunia is being reintegrated into a social setting, with kids who don’t mock him.

“They’ve been very warmly receiving him.”

He’s already picked up some English — Crean said with a laugh that “he knows the word ‘No’” — and has adapted to the new environment.

JenniferCrean-Dunia-wThe surgeries begin in early January, when Dr. Alex Dagum will put three tissue expanders into his face, under the skin on his cheeks and chin. Over a few months, Dagum will slowly fill those with saline, expanding them and stretching the skin. Once there is enough excess skin created, the expanders will come out and that skin will be cut away and used to reconstruct the lips and cheek.

Stony Brook University Hospital, where Dagum is chief of plastic surgery, has donated the facility and medical staff’s time to operate on Dunia, and is even preparing special meals for him. In addition, Klempner said, “nurses volunteered to be dedicated nurses for him when he comes in for surgery so he sees the same faces.”

Dunia Sibomana meets Santa Claus. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana meets Santa Claus. Photo from Amy Epstein

All of the work will add up to a new look for Dunia that will hopefully improve his quality of life at home in Congo when he is ready to return.

“He is sweet, and he is fun-loving; he’s got a sense of humor,” Klempner said. “He’s an 8-year-old kid that got a bad draw on life.”

Help needed
Smile Rescue Fund for Kids is searching for a local volunteer who speaks Swahili to translate for Dunia while he is in the United States, as well as volunteers who will spend time with Dunia, as a way of helping out his hosts, the Crean family. Contact Leon Klempner at 631-974-7511 or [email protected] For those who cannot volunteer but would like to help, Smile Rescue Fund accepts donations online, at www.smilerescuefund.org.

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A before and after of a rhinoplasty, or “nose job,” by Dr. Gregory Diehl in Port Jefferson Station. Photos from Dr. Gregory Diehl

By Melissa Arnold

We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, even briefly: That nagging feeling of discontent about the way you look.

Maybe you’re a parent with stubborn post-baby weight, someone who’s had gastric bypass surgery with lots of extra skin or even someone recovering from a traumatic injury that’s affected your appearance. In all of these cases, lifestyle changes can only do so much.

For many years, plastic surgery has bridged that gap, giving patients from all walks of life the look they’ve longed for. And while it’s still going to cost you, going under the knife is simpler than ever.

An ancient practice
Believe it or not, plastic surgery has been around for thousands of years in two forms — reconstructive and cosmetic. According to the National Institutes of Health, some of the earliest body-altering procedures were performed in India around 800 B.C. At that time, people often had their noses cut off during conflict or as punishment, and simplistic rhinoplasties, “nose jobs,” were performed to reconstruct them.

Modern reconstructive surgery was born in wartime as soldiers dealt with facial trauma and other injuries. The American Board of Plastic Surgery was organized in 1937.

Cosmetic surgery took longer to become popular — the buzz surrounding it didn’t pick up until the 1970s and 80s, says Dr. Jim Romanelli of North Shore Plastic Surgery in Huntington.

“There was [originally] some resistance within medicine, saying it was unnecessary, dangerous and vain,” Romanelli said. “But today, we know a lot more about performing the surgery safely with good results.”

What began with involved, painful procedures and long scars has grown into a streamlined, patient-directed field of surgery with more natural-looking results and less hassle.

And these days, plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures are more accessible than ever. While no cosmetic surgeries are covered by insurance, there are now plenty of options to finance them, from saving up cash to working with a lender or financing company.

“Most people having cosmetic surgery just want to look in the mirror and feel happy and healthy,” Romanelli said. “These are everyday people — schoolteachers, musicians, bus drivers — not exclusively wealthy people or celebrities.”

While many patients opting for surgery are women, the number of male patients is growing too.

Modern trends
In the past, a patient’s wishes weren’t always a huge priority. Years ago, a surgeon may have only performed a procedure in a certain way. If the patient hoped for something different, they’d have to look elsewhere.

But today, it’s not uncommon for patients to bring in photos of the kind of look they’re hoping for, much like choosing a hairstyle or wedding dress, Romanelli explained.

Finding out what the patient really wants is the foundation of modern cosmetic surgery, says Dr. Hilton Adler of Suffolk Plastic Surgeons in Setauket.

“I always start by asking a patient what they’re looking for — what concerns them and what they want to see changed,” he said. “Then, following an exam, I’ll offer them choices based on what [technology is] available.”

Today’s most sought after surgeries aren’t that different from the past. Nose jobs, breast reductions or augmentations, tummy tucks and face-lifts all top the list.

“I wouldn’t say that any particular cosmetic procedure has been abandoned, just significantly modified. It’s almost like a brand-new procedure in some cases,” Adler explained.

For example, Romanelli says that the incisions used for breast-related surgeries have changed, allowing for a smaller scar. In some cases, the incision is made under the arm, where it’s less obvious.

There’s also the “mommy makeover,” which combines a tummy tuck and a face lift or breast work into one surgery.

Men usually come in for facial work, but many are also seeking help for gynecomastia, a condition that causes breast development.

“It’s tough on guys who are in high school or college whose breasts develop,” said Dr. Gregory Diehl of Diehl Plastic Surgery in Port Jefferson Station. “The hormones are fine, but the glands are bigger. Its become more common today to look for a fix.”

In reconstructive surgery, one of the most common procedures today helps to eliminate excess skin that often occurs in people who have experienced rapid or significant weight loss, Adler says. In many cases, the weight loss is aided by gastric bypass procedures.

Noninvasive procedures and more
Of course, not every cosmetic procedure requires surgery. In fact, minimally invasive and noninvasive procedures are extremely popular today, as new technology continues to develop.

“People are trying to get away from surgery, while things like Botox and other (injectable) fillers are becoming more popular,” Diehl said.

Injectables are a group of materials that can smooth wrinkles, plump other areas, and create a more youthful look overall.

Procedures such as CoolSculpting, which freezes and shrinks fat cells, and ultherapy, which uses ultrasound technology for tightening the face, are also on the rise, Adler said.

Put simply, if you can dream it, there’s likely a procedure to help you achieve it.

Planning your makeover
If you’re looking to have cosmetic surgery or another procedure, the first step is choosing the right surgeon.

“We urge patients to seek out board-certified plastic surgeons. Make sure your doctor has proper credentials,” Adler said.

Diehl also noted that they should offer to show you their previous work. “Ask for pictures of their surgeries. You should like what you see. Pictures tell the story,” he said. “Also, is the doctor really listening to you and what you want? You have to communicate. You have to make sure all the details are ironed out.”

Once you find the right person, a consultation lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

The surgeon will get an idea of what you’d like to do, and in some cases allow you to check it out using computer imaging.

If you’re satisfied, you’ll return for a second appointment to address any new questions or concerns before scheduling the procedure. The exact process and recovery time varies, depending on the procedure. Many surgeons have operating rooms in their own offices, and barring complications, a patient can go home the same day.

Making a difference
The surgeons are quick to note that there’s no longer any stigma surrounding plastic surgery. “People are proud of what they’ve done. They want to tell everyone about it,” Diehl said.

The surgeons are proud, too.

“People do say, ‘You’ve changed my life. I should have done this sooner.’ It’s wonderful to be able to help people with that,” Romanelli said.