A 14-year-old boy is recovering after doctors performed a fourth surgery to give him a new face.
Stefan Savic was born with a Tessier facial cleft which deformed the center of his face between his eyes, nose and mouth, according to the UK charity Facing the World.
Although Savic had surgery as an infant, the majority of his face was left unchanged until age 4 when he met Wayne Ingram.
Ingram, a British soldier, was assigned to a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 2003 when he first met Savic. While meeting with local officials, Ingram was handed Savic’s picture.
“When I first saw him I was really heartbroken,” said Ingram. “You don’t want to see any child disfigured. At the time he was 4 years of age and had never been in school. He hadn’t been introduced to other children.”
Ingram met with Savic’s father, who explained that the family had looked into further surgeries for Savic, but could not afford it. After meeting Savic, Ingram started to fundraise through charity soccer matches and press campaigns in his hometown of Dorset, England. Ingram said he was quickly able to raise enough money to fund Savic’s first surgery.
“People were so generous. I think Stefan touched their hearts,” said Ingram.
Savic underwent two surgeries at age 4 to help fix the majority of the defect. But doctors warned they were not finished. When Slavic became a teenager he would need another surgery to build out his nose.
For the past ten years Ingram has stayed in touch with Savic and his family through Skype and visits. Last year Ingram went to visit the family again to ask if he could fundraise for another surgery.
“We’re at the ten-year point, I want to start raising money and they gave permission. But unfortunately we had terrible floods in the UK,” said Savic. “I was wary, it was a struggle here.”
Ingram said towards the end of fundraising the needed 15,000 pounds, he started to run into trouble. Although he planned to sell his motorbike, an anonymous neighbor self-described as a “kind granny” donated the rest of the funds.
“The whole thing has been humbling, just seeing the generosity from people,” said Ingram. “There’s been lots and lots of different people who have helped. There’s been many people who have donated.”
Ingram said Savic, now 14, has taken the surgeries in stride without appearing to be too worried about them.
“He’s turned into a really, really nice young guy. He’s shy,” said Ingram. “He’s now aware of how he looks and I think if we hadn't had the operation…God only knows what he would have went through.”
Ingram said the last surgery will hopefully be the final major operation. On Saturday doctors used part of the cartilage from Savic’s rib to help reform a nose. The teenager's only worry was that his nose seemed a bit small. But overall Ingram said the teen has had a quick recovery.
“Even the nurses are amazed he’s in recovery. It’s really heartwarming we’re nearly [done] now,” said Ingram.