Never Lose Hope: Jessica’s Story

Operation Smile Australia is known as a medical charity that provides children around the world with life-changing surgeries. However, there are some special cases, where we can also have an impact on the lives of adults. Jessica is one woman from Papua New Guinea that we had the privilege of supporting.

Jessica, aged 38 years and mother of three children, had lived with a tumour on her face since she was 20. Over time the tumour had grown to cover half of her face, encroaching on her eye and her lips, making it impossible to participate in everyday life in her community. As Jessica told us, “I couldn’t do anything, no job, no money, I couldn’t eat or drink properly, couldn’t look after my children or even smile with them. All I did was make them worry about me, their lives shouldn’t be like that”.

Peter Woods, an Australian nurse from the Sunshine Coast who was working for a company in Papua New Guinea, saw Jessica in the crowd at Port Moresby airport. Peter learned from Jessica that no hospitals or medical centres in Papua New Guinea were able to perform the surgery that she needed. Moved to try to assist Jessica, Peter contacted a doctor friend of his at St Andrews War Memorial Hospital, in Brisbane, to investigate what could be done. Operation Smile Australia was approached. We knew that we would do anything we could to support Jessica, and arranged to fly Jessica out to Brisbane and set up what was to be a life-changing surgery.

Jessica and her husband, Simon, arrived in Australia for her first surgery for radical incision of neurofibroma in September, 2014. With the assistance of a team of 8 medical professionals, donating their skills and time, her first surgery was performed over 6 hours. Jessica stayed in Australia for two months, until she was ready for the following surgery in October, 2014.

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Even after the two complex operations in 2014, the tumour wasn’t completely gone. Jessica’s third, and last operation was in April, 2016, and we are thrilled to report that the amazingly skilled team of volunteers managed to completely remove the tumour. “I can be able enjoy my life now, I hope I can be closer to my children and I will look for a job to take care of our family”, Jessica said.
Jessica and her husband enjoyed getting to know Brisbane during their recent stay. A small trip was made to Brisbane’s Southbank beach, and there was even some up-close encounters with the native wildlife at The Australia Zoo!
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Heading home to Papua New Guinea, Jessica was excited to see her children and community again. Leaving Brisbane, she wanted to say thank you to everyone involved in getting her treatment, including Peter Woods who first approached her in the airport, to the staff and volunteers at St. Andrews Hospital, Dr Richard Lewandowski, and the entire Operation Smile Australia team who helped to bring about this new chapter in her life.
In tears, Jessica told us that this “miracle” had happened to her because she never lost hope in the goodness of the human heart. She wanted to tell everyone, especially those who find themselves in difficult situations like her: “Be positive and don’t lose your hope, there is always someone out there willing to help you!” Jessica said that on her return to PNG she was going to do everything she could to help other people in her community and country who are also living with facial deformities or similar medical conditions. “I’m going to find them, and let them know that there are ways to get better”. We are already in contact with Jessica about referring a little boy with a bilateral cleft lip in her village to get the help he needs to smile again!

"We strive for a world where no child suffers the risks and uncertainties of a facial deformity."

- Richard Lewandowski, Plastic Surgeon, Co-Founder Operation Smile Australia