A woman from India maimed by an acid attack as a 13-year-old found both medical treatment and a new family in Ohio at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati. The crime happened in Prerna Gandhi’s hometown of Rohtak, India. It left severe burns over 40 percent of her body, including the right side of her face.
At 16 years old, Gandhi was accepted for treatment at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati where they specialize in pediatric plastic surgery and burn reconstruction. During Gandhi’s stay with a host family, she met a neighbor that lived down the street named Graci Doll. The girls became fast friends and she persuaded Mount Notre Dame High School to allow Gandhi to audit classes.
Gandhi returned to India last summer to see her family for the first time in two years. She returned to the U.S. in December on a student visa and began taking classes at the University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash campus last month.
Gandhi’s previous host family moved out of state but Doll insisted she live with her and her parents, Scott and Melissa Doll, who took Gandhi in to allow her to continue her treatments in Cincinnati. “She’s a gift,” said Scott Doll. “We look at her as a blessing. We have learned things about the world that we could never have known without her. “Acid attacks are common in India, often aimed at women when men feel jilted or to settle family disputes.”
The day of the attack, Gandhi had persuaded a friend to let her drive her friend’s scooter home from school. As they were stopped in traffic, two older boys approached on a motorcycle and the acid was thrown. The crime mystified authorities and Gandhi’s family until eventually police learned Gandhi’s friend — who was supposed to be driving the scooter — was the intended target. Two men were sentenced to life in prison; a jealous female neighbor of Gandhi’s friend hired them was sentenced to a year behind bars.
The acid caused third-degree full-thickness burns over 40 percent of Prerna’s body. For months after the attack, she lay in a hospital in Rohtak and had more than two dozen surgeries to graft skin over the burns. At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati, she has gone through several additional procedures, including surgeries to reduce rigid neck scarring, construction of a new eyebrow and laser treatment to smooth burn scars. She will continue to receive treatment until she is 21.
Graci Doll, also 18, said meeting Gandhi has changed her perspective on life. “Before I met her, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on in the world. I didn’t know about the hardship,” Doll said. “She has opened my eyes. Now I want to do something to help the world.”
“This attack has made me into the woman I am today, a strong, independent young woman who wants to make a difference,” said Gandhi.
Gandhi hopes to stay in the U.S. and get a degree in International Business. She is now an advocate for women who have suffered from acid attaches and wants the world to know about the injustice.
When Liz and Dan Malarkey got pregnant in 2012 the last thing on their mind was that their baby would be born with a craniofacial deformity. At an ultrasound appointment in December of 2012 they were given the news that their baby girl, Lola, would be born with a cleft lip and possibly a cleft palate but they wouldn’t know until she was born.
Over the next 4 months the Malarkey’s did everything they could to prepare themselves and their families for the challenges Lola might face once she was born. They met with a cleft lip and palate clinic in Jacksonville, FL an hour from their home in St. Augustine. They felt as prepared as they could be. And when Lola was born on April 11, 2013 doctors confirmed she also had a cleft palate but they were ready for it. Of course that didn’t change the love they felt for their baby girl.
What the Malarkey’s were unprepared for was the extensive costs of Lola’s surgeries. Liz said, “Even with insurance, we quickly learned that the cost of surgery would wipe out our savings and then some, essentially bankrupting us.”
After weeks of thinking things over and debating what to do, a family friend told Liz about her father and grandfather who were Shriners. She went on to tell Liz about Shriners Hospital for Children and the expert care they provide for cleft lip and palate repair.
The Malarkey’s did their research on Shriners and made their first appointment at Shriners Hospital for Children – Cincinnati with Dr. Pan. They were pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and comfortable the staff, nurses and doctor made them feel.
Dan said they were extremely nervous but after their appointment with Dr. Pan and discussing his plan of care for Lola they were completely relieved. Like any parents, they wanted to best for their child and they finally found it.
Over the next year Lola had two surgeries to repair her cleft lip and palate. She has a slight scar that is often unnoticed on her lip. She’s now a vibrant, joyful 3 year old that enjoys the beach and being a princess.
When children born with a cleft lip and palate grow up, they may have issues with delayed speech and their teeth. Shriner’s will work with orthodontists and dentists to ensure Lola gets everything she needs.
Though she may need additional surgeries in the future, her parents know they are in the best capable hands for Lola’s care. “The support system they received from everyone in Cincinnati was more than they could have asked for, especially being so far from home,” said Dan.
From Fuyang to Cincinnati: Wu's story
Patient finds family and healing after tragedy
In January 2008, when she was 11 years old, tragedy struck Wushuang – her friends call her Wu – and her family. Their house in Fuyang, a city in the Anhui province of China, caught fire. “I was curled up in a ball, screaming as the fire was surrounding me. I remember being covered by something,” said Wu. “Later, as I was thinking about that day, I realized that it was my mom who covered me with her body. She sacrificed her own life to save mine.” Wu had burns over 80 percent of her body and spent the next several months in a Chinese hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries. Her father was told not to expect his daughter to survive. But he did not give up hope, and in July 2008, Wu was brought to Shriners Hospitals for Children® — Cincinnati for lifesaving treatment.
Traveling to treatment
Wu traveled to America alone, scared and not knowing a single word of English. As she began her eight years of treatment, and endured numerous surgeries at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital, she learned her first English word: pain. “Those first few months were the worst,” said Wu. Wu stayed with a host family during her time in the U.S. Over the years, she formed relationships with several families, friends and a special group of moms in her Batesville, Ind., community. She managed to attend high school, master the English language and graduate with honors, all while continuing treatment, including surgeries, at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital. During her treatment, Wu traveled back and forth to China four times. She carried with her not only the emotional sadness of losing her mother, but also the heavy burden of many physical limitations and disabilities due to her burn injuries.
Looking to the future
Wu, currently 19 years old, sees life in a totally different way now. “I’m unique, which corresponds with the meaning of my name – Wushuang – one and only, unparalleled,” she said. Wu’s dream is to have a career in the medical field and help others who are struggling. She says it is her way of honoring the memory of her mother and the many health care professionals who have cared for her over the years. She is well on her way to achieving that dream. Wu has received a student visa and has been accepted by Marian University in Indianapolis, Ind. With scholarships and other assistance, Wu has more than half the funds needed to attend Marian University. Her amazing surrogate moms are fundraising for her and started a YouCaring crowdfunding page to help her fulfill her dream.
After years of treatment at the Cincinnati Shriners Hospital, Wu is now looking forward to college and a career in the medical field.
The story of the Newsome Twosome
It was a bittersweet moment when we were told our twin boys would both be born with a cleft. The day after our sweet boys were born, I posted on Facebook and announced to everyone that the boys were born with cleft lip and one also had a cleft palate. Once I made the post, a friend's brother, who is a Shriner, saw it and immediately said, "Shriners Hospitals for Children can help." He met me at the hospital, we filled out the paperwork and the rest - is history! We arrived in Cincinnati just a few months later. The staff was amazing! They made what was a very difficult time so much easier. We can never truly thank Shriners and Shriners Hospitals for Children - Cincinnati for all they have done. Words and even actions will never be able to show the world the change they have made by providing our sweet boys with a better quality of life!
- Barbie Newsome, mother of Ty and Colton