Over a year ago, I was contacted about a young man in Harrar, Eastern Ethiopia with a huge facial mass growing for 11 years. It greatly diminished eyesight in 1 eye, clogged one nostril, and caused a chronic, foul-smelling nasal discharge.
Petros is the youngest child in a family of seven. His dad was a security guard, but is now blind. Petros’ mother singlehandedly supports her family by selling injera, traditional Ethiopian sour bread. When not in school, Petros works as a daily laborer digging holes to supplement his mom’s meager income.
Petros lives with his parents and his 22-year-old brother, Yosef, in a cramped mud hut with no running water. The family takes water from a neighbor’s house, and takes bucket showers twice a week. They walk to a neighborhood latrine. At bedtime, Petros and his brother squeeze into the same small cotton mattress on the dirt floor. The family eats three meals a day consisting of injera and sauces.
Petros’ tumor started growing when he was seven. The deformity led to social problems: bullies teased Petros at school, some classmates avoided talking to or even looking at him. Passersby stared at him on the street and asked obnoxious questions. They looked at him and make the sign of the cross, asking Jesus to protect them from his condition. Petros reacted with depression and even feared leaving the house and going to school. Eventually, he taught himself to relax and to ignore the unwanted extra attention.
Petros’ impoverished family saved money to send him to local doctors without improvement. The family never gave up hope. Petros reluctantly turned to classmates and their families for financial help. They raised money to send him to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
Petros first travelled to Addis at the age of ten, consulting numerous doctors, receiving various types of unsuccessful treatments. Last year a family friend mentioned his problem to Dr. Rick. Dr. Glenn Isaacson, a visiting ENT specialist from Philadelphia drained Petros’ sinus and did a biopsy. The biopsy, analyzed at University of Rochester at no cost, showed an “ossified fibroma.” This non-cancerous mass would still kill Petros as it expands.
Despite growing disfigurement, Petros has been resilient. He has consistently ranked among the top 10 students and loves school—especially biology, chemistry, and physics. Now in ninth grade, he lost some years of school due to the necessity of travelling for medical appointments. He spends free time studying and reading. He enjoys hanging out with Samson, his best friend of seven years. A practicing Protestant, Petros goes to church several times a week.
His favorite holiday is Enkutatash, Ethiopian New Year, which his family celebrates by singing songs and slaughtering a sheep. Since childhood, it has been one of the few times a year when his family ate meat.
With Rick’s intervention, Petros was accepted for surgery by Dr. Peter Cornelius and Michael Ehrenfeld at Ludwig Maximillion University in Munich. Rick believes they are the finest facial surgeons in the world – they have operated on about 10 of his patients, correcting huge, disfiguring facial tumors. Kind citizens of Munich rallied to support Petros, donating funds for his surgery and air ticket.
A surgery up to 20 hours is planned by a team of specialists: It is highly complicated: the mass will be removed, part of the skull will be removed and replaced with a prosthesis, the eyeballs are smaller than they should be due to pressure, and there is the possibility of post-surgical endocrine crisis.
Petros has been living in my home, sleeping on my living room couch as he studies English every day in preparation for his trip abroad. We have found him to be just great – nice, friendly, helpful, funny, and willing to go places despite having people stare at him and cross themselves as they see him. His mom and brother joined him for a few days before departure.
Petros hopes to finish high school, go to medical school to become an ophthalmologist. However, Petros is painfully aware that these dreams depend on his medical situation. Please keep him in your prayers!
Photos and story distributed with permission.
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