Little Janice touched the bump on her nose. The bump filled her small cupped hand. As she looked in the mirror, she made a sad little frown. The bump has gotten quite large and made her face look very ugly. Often Janice would ask her mother, “Mom, when can I have my surgery? I want to be pretty someday.”
Janice has frontonasal encephalocele, a disorder where the brain tissue pushes through a bony defect of the skull. This skull defect (hole) was caused by an abnormal skull growth.
Janice lives in the Philippines in a small, isolated Cagayancillo island with no hospitals. Her family is very poor and couldn’t take her to the mainland to have surgery. Once, a visiting doctor came to the island and Janice’s mother took her little girl for examination. The doctor had bad news: If Janice does not get help, she
may not live to see her 5’th birthday.
Surprisingly, Janice had her 5’th , then her 6’th birthday. When she turned seven, she started to attend school. The children in school were not kind to Janice. They called her names. Some were afraid of her because of her terrifying look. The tumor has now gotten quite large and started to affect her right vision. And in the past 3 years, Janice started to have seizures, which certainly worried her mother.Her first surgery she got sponsors for her operations.
One day as Janice played outside her hut, she heard a commotion. Her neighbors were posing for pictures and without hesitation, she ran to join them. She wanted to be in the picture also.
Janice was told to squat down to keep from blocking those who were being photographed. So she did while holding on to the barbed wire fence to keep her balance. Later on, she skipped back to her hut. She
never saw the developed picture and didn’t have a clue that the picture would travel halfway around the globe and her face viewed by thousands.
I saw the picture of Janice when Pastor Edbert Carceler who visited us, asked help to download pictures from his camera into our computer. It was the encephalocele (massive tumor-like growth) on Janice’s nose that caught my attention.
A feeling of overwhelming compassion for Janice overcame me. What can I do to help her? That night I couldn’t go to sleep. I cropped Janice’s picture and made flyers, which I sent to family and friends.Her once-sad face instantly turned into a face of joy.
“Please help Janice have her surgery,” I said in the flyers. In no time, donations started pouring in from people, many of whom I did not know. In a few months’ time we had raised $6,000.
I sent word to Janice’s mother in Cagayancillo, Palawan to go to Manila for her daughter’s surgery. There was a lot of excitement in Janice’s home the day they received the good news. Janice was very happy. It took a few more months before Janice and her mother were able to travel to Manila due to bad weather. Traveling in a small boat, mother and daughter arrived in Manila three days later.
Pastor Reuben Villanueva and his wife, Shari, found the neurologist who would perform the surgery. Due to the severity of her condition, Janice had to undergo 3 operations, with the first two done within a month apart.
The second surgery involved a long incision (from ear to ear) on top of her head with her facial skin peeled outward and the hole on her frontal bone closed up. Janice went through terrible pain after that but her spirits were up. The mass became smaller and as Janice looked in the mirror, her lips curved into a sweet smile.
The neurologist told Janice and her mother to go back home to her island and come back 6 months later for her final surgery.
For Janice, those 6 months of waiting seemed forever. She could hardly wait to have her last surgery so her face would finally look pretty. It was her wish that her final surgery will be done before Christmas.
“Aunt Lolit, can you buy me a new pair of blue jeans?” Janice asked her host family while in Manila. “I want to look pretty after my surgery.” Her request was granted.
Dr. Archie LaMadrid of Manila Adventist Medical Center performed Janice’s last surgery for free. Three hours later, Janice was in recovery. She woke up and touched her bump and felt the bandages. She was very happy.
A week later, Janice’s stitches were taken out. The little girl can hardly wait to look in the mirror. Her bump was no longer there and her once-sad face instantly turned into a face of joy.
Today, Janice is back home in her small island. She got her Christmas wish – thanks to the many wonderful people who cared.
This Christmas, let us remember the real reason for the season and let us share our blessings to the poor among us.