Teeba Marlowe: My Journey Undergoing 19 Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeries

Teeba Marlowe: My Journey Undergoing 19 Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeries

Life in Iraq

My story starts when I was 19 months old. Although I wish I could say I was thriving, I must use the word “surviving” in my small village in Diyala Province, Iraq. The wars were continual, scarring, and damaging, but life went on. My family was growing since my parents now had two children, myself and a three-year-old son, a beautiful first-born son named Yousif. Life was difficult for my parents in every aspect. There was a horrid war on their doorstep, religious persecution all around them, a vicious hatred between their two families, and financial issues that still have no chance of relief. The silent and revered month of Ramadan had just ended and the celebration was yet to begin. So, my family set their worries aside for the day and decided my dad, brother, and I would go to Baghdad to shop for the holiday festivities.

Teeba and Dr. Gosain recently spoke at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ annual meeting, where Teeba shared her story with hundreds.

The next thing I knew I was sitting in a hospital bed with no eye-sight, a screaming mother, and skin that itched immensely. We had become victims of a roadside IED bombing shortly after leaving our village. My dad remained mostly untouched by the flames, but I’m assuming watching his two only children burn must have hurt him even more. Yousif passed away before we even reached the hospital, but my mother was in denial while screaming his name. As for me, I was severely burned on my scalp, face, and hands. I had lost my sight temporarily. For the next 40 days, I laid in a hospital bed and listened to the prayers of my family members.

New Beginnings in America

To make a long story short, I came to America when I was five years old with my grandma after an American woman, Barbara Marlowe who would later become my ‘American mother’, had seen my picture in a newspaper. The transition was strange but not one that’s uncommon. I became one with everyone, but still held tight to my roots knowing that every minute spent where you come from is just as important as every second you hope to live in the future. Having a family in America and a family back home was not as strange as everyone seems to think. Truly, I sometimes forgot I was the only kid out of my friends with two moms and two dads. We were one family and will always be one family. I speak with my mom and dad in Iraq as often as I get the chance. If I could, I would to return home to hug them both and simply say “Thank you for letting me go,” but that’s a moment not meant for the present.

Until I meet the day that allows me to reunite with my family again, I will continue to live in Cleveland, Ohio and soak up every opportunity that’s thrown my way. Since I aspire to be a Pediatric Anesthesiologist, I can use any help I can get. My entire family is very understanding and supportive of that career goal. My moms really are my biggest inspirations. They have taught me lessons about language barriers, religion, and even societal similarities.

My Hero, Dr. Arun Gosain

Looking back on my childhood, the emotions I was filled with range from those of fear, hope, and happiness. It’s difficult to pinpoint a time in my childhood where all three of these emotions were not present. When there is bad, there will always be good. One example to which brought me to that conclusion was my ongoing procedures performed by the legendary Dr. Arun Gosain, pediatric plastic surgeon.

In 2007, my preliminary consultation began the journey of my surgeries. I was only five years old, but I remember meeting Dr. Gosain as if it were yesterday. No, I don’t remember the conversations all that well or even what the final verdict at the end of the appointment was, but I remember him high-fiving me and telling me that he was going to make me even more beautiful than I already was. It was very reassuring to have a doctor who really seemed to have my best interest at heart. A doctor being so kind and compassionate was a foreign concept to me, which was unfortunate considering how much time I had already spent in hospitals prior to meeting Dr. Gosain.

When I began the procedures, I was probably the worst patient that ever rolled through those O.R. doors. But, can you blame me? I was a five-year-old girl who did not speak any English and suffered from severe PTSD from previous surgeries in Iraq. The first few surgeries in America all seem a blur. I am grateful for not being able to remember each individual surgery because that takes a toll on one’s body and mind. However, I can recall going to school during the times of the early surgeries. I remember receiving a lot of stares and getting asked plenty of questions from the other students before they got used to seeing my face on a day-to-day basis. After just a few weeks, most of the kids had seemed to have forgotten I was different at all. Luckily, children’s’ innocence is what allowed my classmates to not be afraid of my differences. For any kid who is currently in the position I was in, I urge you to go to school and keep your head held high. I want you to know you are not an innate fear of another student. You are simply just going to have to explain the circumstances and ask to them to play anyways.

Teeba and her ‘American mother,’ Barbara

Off to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital

While I was continuously having surgeries, I had to explain to the kids at school why I had scars running up and down my face. As I got older I noticed fewer people looked at me and instead of getting asked what happened, the conversations turned into, “Wow! I never would have known you were burned.” That goes on to this day. Anyway, after a good 16 or so surgeries, I followed Dr. Gosain to Lurie Children’s Hospital to ensure only his hands would be continuing the work on my face. There, Dr. Gosain, Head of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, fixed my lower right lip, which had always hung down. He had also done more scar revisions. I recall being much more calm and confident when going into the operating room at Lurie Children’s, knowing I had done this all too many times before, so what was another surgery?

After having the necessary procedures done, I felt like a very big weight was lifted off my shoulders. Knowing I did not have to do the “getting up at six in the morning, driving to the hospital, and going under anesthesia for countless hours” thing anymore was a relief. I began to smile much more and felt more confident in the new skin that was now the surface of my face. I no longer felt any pain when I smiled or cried. I was glad that my skin was no longer restricted and tight. It was simply skin, and I’m so grateful that’s what I became. I still have options to do very non-invasive treatments and procedures to smooth out my skin. I even have the option of reconstructing my ears. For now, I hope to just let time do its thing and heal my face. I have put myself and my family through enough emotionally draining hours in the hospital.

A Brave Face: The Story of My Life


A bomb in Teeba’s native Iraq caused severe burns that required 19 plastic and reconstructive surgeries.

My entire life is out there for everyone to see once A Brave Face is released. My life is sort of like a book. I guess that’s why it is now a book. Since I’m putting myself in the most vulnerable position and exposing every aspect of who I am as Teeba Marlowe, I ask that those who read it do not let the message escape them when they close the book. Live by the lessons my moms have taught me. I guess I am most grateful for the second chance I’ve been given. I say “I guess” not because I’m reluctant to be thankful, but because I am reluctant as to what thing I say first. I have been given blessing after blessing, if I were to list them all, I’d be here all day.

The story of Teeba’s journey will be released in A Brave Face on March 12, 2019. For more information, please visit www.ABraveFaceBook.com.

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