“Everything around me had blacked out except the sight of this little girl’s sad eyes staring back at me,” said Barbara Marlowe, who would soon become this child’s mother figure in the United States.
On July 16, 2006, Barbara was heading out the door when an article on the front page of her local newspaper caught her attention. It was a story about children in Iraq needing multiple surgeries because of bombings during the war. The piece featured Teeba, who was then four years old.
When she was just 19 months old, Teeba was left severely injured and burned after the taxi she and her family were in ran over a bomb. Not only was Teeba’s life in jeopardy, but her three-year-old brother was killed, leaving her family absolutely devastated. Despite the tremendous loss, her parents never lost hope that they would be able to get Teeba the help she needed to make a solid recovery and live her life to the fullest.
Barbara was compelled to help Teeba and her family. “Getting her here would be like getting a camel through the eye of a needle,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just doing it blindly.”
Thankfully, a close friend of Barbara’s knew someone who was part of an organization that helped to bring children from the Middle East to hospitals in the United States for access to specialized healthcare. “Usually, this man is so hard to reach, but he picked up on the first ring and said he would be able to help,” Barbara said. “Shortly after, we received a phone call simply asking, “When do you want her?”
Exactly one year to the date after Barbara saw the article, Teeba’s grandmother brought her from Iraq to Cleveland, Ohio, to live with Barbara to get the treatment she needed. “Teeba’s mom, Dunia, took a giant leap of faith to send her here. She lost her son and then proceeded to let her only child go to America where the two would have little contact,” Barbara said.
Teeba’s Saving Grace: Dr. Gosain
The move was the beginning of a long process. Teeba would need numerous plastic and reconstructive surgeries on her face. “No one wanted to commit to treating her because they were not sure if they were capable of it,” Barbara said. “Dr. Gosain was the first to give Teeba a chance.”
When Barbara and Teeba met with the head of the Pediatric Surgery department at a local Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, he referred them to Dr. Arun K. Gosain, who is now the Division Head of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Lurie Children’s.
“The first time we met with Dr. Gosain, he talked directly to Teeba instead of focusing on the interpreter, which meant a lot, considering she was only five years old and did not speak any English,” Barbara said. “He took the time to explain all of her options to her, including the process of tissue expansion.”
Tissue expansion involves inserting a balloon under any ‘good’ skin. Once a week, the balloon needs to be filled with saline in order for it to keep expanding. When it seems to have become big enough, the new skin is removed, so it could be attached to areas of the face which need to be covered. “Since Dr. Gosain is a well-renowned surgeon and an expert in tissue expansion, we decided to follow through with this option,” Barbara said. “This was the first procedure of many.”
“Her face was like a jigsaw puzzle. She would see progress slowly each time a procedure was done,” Barbara said. In total, Dr. Gosain preformed 19 surgeries on Teeba within seven years. The last two of these procedures were done at Lurie Children’s. “He knows her face so well. She loves and trusts Dr. Gosain. It would be foreign for her to see anyone else,” Barbara said.
“Lurie Children’s has an incredible gain by having Dr. Gosain on their team. He is an extraordinary surgeon and an extraordinary person who makes every child feel like they are the only child in the world,” Barbara added.
What Lies Ahead
Now, Teeba is 17 years old. She is an outstanding writer and public speaker who highlights unheard voices. “Teeba has not skipped a beat since she’s been here. She’s beyond grateful for everything in her life, so she makes sure she is giving back,” Barbara said. “This has inspired Teeba to want to become a pediatric anesthesiologist, as she is able to relate to how children feel when they are in a similar situation.”
There are no more necessary surgeries Teeba has to undergo, but she has the option to have some minor laser treatments and possibly ear reconstruction by Dr. Akira Yamada, plastic surgeon, at Lurie Children’s, if she wishes.
“It is still hard for me to talk about Teeba’s story, even after I’ve told it over and over again,” said Barbara, who has co-written a book titled A Brave Face with the help of Teeba and Teeba’s mother about their inspirational journey. “The biggest takeaway from this story is how people from different cultures and religions have come together for one little girl. Everyone wants the same for a child. This experience has opened up my world to those who share the same values. If you open your eyes and heart, you can see so much more.”
A Brave Face will be released and available for purchase on March 12, 2019. For more information, please visit www.ABraveFaceBook.com.