16 April 2018 Read: 2921
“Every goodnight kiss may very well be our last one.” George Hepburn (44) and his wife Kelly (28) from Phalaborwa, literally live each day as if it will be their last one together. As we spoke, Kelly struggled with pain caused by a steel plate in her mouth which is literally keeping the bottom half of her jaw attached to her skull. Her mandible and a portion of her maxilla were surgically removed in 2016, to prevent the spread of an extremely rare form of cancerous tumour, Ameloblastoma.
Ameloblastoma (from the early English word ‘amel’, meaning enamel and the Greek word ‘blastos’, meaning germ, is a rare, benign or cancerous tumour of odontogenic epithelium (ameloblasts, or outside portion, of the teeth during development) much more commonly appearing in the lower jaw than the upper jaw. While these tumours are rarely malignant or rarely spread to other parts of the body, and progress slowly, the resulting lesions can cause severe abnormalities of the face and jaw.
“Basically what happens is that your body generates certain cells which work on restoring teeth. When you have an infectious or cracked tooth, and you leave it untreated, those cells move into your jawbone. There these cells begin to multiply and eventually they inflate and then destroy your jawbone,” Kelly explained.
In her case it started with exactly that – a cracked tooth in 2015. Soon, her face began to swell and she went to the nearest dentist. It was thought to be an abscess and she put on a course of antibiotics. She returned two weeks later and the swelling had not subsided which lead to the discovery of the tumour.
The Hepburn’s were referred to a specialist at the Baragwanath hospital who operated on Kelly. Before the operation, however, husband George felt uneasy. “You know, when you go for an operation or a medical procedure of any kind, the last thing you really want to hear is a doctor saying that he is pretty sure he can do it. Kelly was a guinea pig as they had never performed such a procedure before. We had no choice, because we had no medical aid and the doctors told us that we have two options, either we operate or she stands a chance of dying in six weeks as the tumour was only inches away from piercing her skull. And now, here we are.”
After removing her left-side jawbone, the doctors at Baragwanath fashioned a steel structure which they implanted into her face to act as a jaw. She has no teeth on that side of her mouth, and her body has now started rejecting the implant. A gaping hole on the side of her mouth betrays the severity of her situation. The implant has started festering.
“The doctors at Baragwanath told us straight that there is nothing they can do to help us and that we would need to seek specialist help. The problem with that is that specialists of this kind do not come cheap and our medical aid refuse to cover the procedure because it was a pre-diagnosed condition.”
George set out looking for assistance and came across an organization who may be able to help.
BackaBuddy is a South African online crowdfunding platform that is designed to help individuals raise funds for causes they are passionate about. These causes can range from registered non-profit organisations to individuals who need funds for a variety of reasons, including medical procedures.
George went through the selection process, filed all the paperwork and submitted endless documents which finally led to his wife’s cause being accepted as legitimate. Kelly’s emergency medical needs were registered with BackaBuddy, published on their site and has now started receiving donations from all across the globe.
“We have no idea how much exactly all of the procedures will cost, but we have received quotations from roughly 10 different doctors and it all points to the region of R430 000 needed to save my wife. We just don’t have that amount of money and so it is our hope that through BackaBuddy, we will have a chance at success. Please, if any-one reading this article can find it in their budget to donate towards saving my wife and helping my family return to normal, we would be forever grateful. We don’t want the money and we know how sceptical people are because of the number of scammers out there, but go and check out www.backabuddy.co.za and you’ll see that they handle all the funds and transfers etc.”
So far, Kelly’s profile has raised R30 281 towards the surgery and they are still a while away from their R430 000 target. If every member of this community donates just R50 towards Kelly’s surgery, the Hepburn’s will have their chance at a normal life again. Please, visit the site and get involved. Your time will mean the world to a family in desperate need.