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A face rebuilt, a life reborn

A face rebuilt, a life reborn

Updated: 2012-04-17 08:12

By Ma Lie and Lu Hongyan in Xi'an (China Daily)

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For the first two decades of her life, Wang Na just wanted to be able to smile and chew food.

The 23-year-old was born without an upper jawbone or upper gums, making the middle of her face look like a sunken pit.

She rushed back home, crying, the first day she went to school and had never gone back.

"I had to cover my face with a scarf when I went out and I was often ridiculed by other kids because I couldn't speak clearly," she recalled.

A face rebuilt, a life reborn 

Right: Wang Na, in May 2010, after undergoing four years of treatment at the Dental Hospital of the Fourth Military Medical University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, to have her face reconstructed. Wu Anbiao / for China Daily

Left: Wang, in June 2006, before the treatment. Provided to China Daily 

That was until May 2010 when her face was finally rebuilt by doctors after four years of treatment.

For the first time in her life she could smile like a normal person, and chew and taste food. It was like being reborn.

Wang, from Shaanxi province, had been abandoned soon after her birth.

Wang Youren, 67, Wang's adoptive father, recalls the night of July 24, 1988, when he heard a noise outside as he prepared to go to bed.

He had thought someone was trying to steal his cow, but instead found a package of bedding next to his firewood stack.

Inside, the father found Wang Na and brought her into the house.

In the light, the couple found a piece of paper with the baby's date of birth: July 23, 1988.

The couple felt glad when they found that the baby was a girl as they had two sons and no daughters.

But their hearts sank when they found, while trying to feed her, that the baby girl had no upper jaw.

Though their elder son had been born deaf and dumb, the couple decided to adopt her because they thought she would die, if abandoned again.

To feed her, the poor family borrowed money and bought a dairy goat to produce milk.

As Wang Na grew, her mother mashed steamed bread and rice into a paste to feed the girl - a special feeding that lasted more than 20 years.

Wang Youren recalled taking her to a rural fair where many people looked at her as a monster. "I was even scolded and told not to bring her out to scare people," said the father.

The family had tried to restore her face since she was eight, visiting many hospitals in the province, but were told there was no way.

One day in 2006, a neighbor who worked in Shaanxi's capital, Xi'an, suggested that the family go to the Dental Hospital of the Fourth Military Medical University.

Liu Yanpu, a professor and director of oral and facial plastic surgery in the hospital, knew the case was rare. The cost of treatment, as well as the difficulties and risks, were quite high.

"Seeing the praying eyes of her parents and Wang Na, I couldn't refuse the family."

The doctor reported the case to the head of the hospital next morning and the hospital decided to give her free treatment.

"I knew we would take risks to do this surgery, as there was no successful experience to learn from," said Zhao Yimin, director of the hospital.

The rest is history.

When Wang Na returned home with her restored face, she was introduced to many men for marriage.

After thinking for many days and nights, she made the unexpected decision to marry her elder deaf-mute brother, who had looked after her for the past two decades.

Life has never been better for Wang, she said.

"I have had double happiness during the past half year," Wang continued.

"One is that I held my wedding ceremony in November. The other is that I got 0.67 hectares of the best farmland from the villager's committee to grow vegetables for my new life."