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Facial transformation gives Natalia chance at normal life

Natalia Apaseray has spent a lifetime struggling to eat, drink and speak but Liverpool Hospital surgeons have helped put a smile back on the face of the West Papuan woman. The 26-year-old was born with neurofibromatosis, a condition that has resulted in the right side of her face being malformed.

Lead specialist and Liverpool Hospital plastic surgeon Dr Michael Kernohan said he had never seen a case as complex as Natalia’s.

“Rotary flew Natalia to Australia late in 2018 for an intensive week of medical appointments and scans before she returned again in May as a humanitarian patient,” Dr Kernohan said.

“It was a really eye-opening experience working with Rotary. Everyone has been outstanding in what they have given and Natalia has shown such courage.

“It was an amazingly complex and mammoth surgical procedure performed in one of our public hospitals which is testament to everyone involved.”

Natalia Apaseray before and after the operations: Image by LUKE FUDA, South Western Sydney Local Health District.

Plastic surgeons, ear nose and throat surgeons, ophthalmologists, interventional radiologists, clinical psychologists and anaesthetists, as well as nursing staff cared for Natalia.

“All of them gave their time freely to treat and care for Natalia and Rotary covered her transport and accommodation needs, making this one great team effort,” Dr Kernohan said.

“There are countless people who offered their time to be part of something that had never been done in a NSW hospital.’’

Natalia’s surgeries in May and again in June involved the removal of a significant portion of the right side of her face, reconstruction of her face, nose mouth and eyelid. 

“Natalia has been so brave throughout this unfamiliar journey and has not complained once. I wish her all the best. If she ever needs help, she knows where to find us,” Dr Kernohan said.

Natalia Aperasay says she felt a lot of shame growing up in Jayapura because of her malformed face.

But not anymore.

“I am so happy to be going back to see my community in Jayapura,’’ she said.

“I no longer feel the need to hide my face.”

“I want to say thank you so very much to Rotary and Liverpool Hospital – you are like family.

“There is no way I can pay everyone back for how they have helped.”

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