A 15-year-old boy from Burkina Faso who is suffering from Von Recklinghausen's disease arrived in Taiwan yesterday for treatment.
Vincent Kabore is expected to check into Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taipei soon for surgery to his face and neck to remove a large tumor caused by the disease, also known as "elephant man syndrome."
Kabore, who has been nicknamed "Ah Fu, the African elephant man" by the main sponsors of the trip, the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation, was met at CKS airport by staff from the foundation.
Foundation executive director Rebecca Wang said the foundation learnt of the boy's plight from reports posted on an Internet bulletin by a young Taiwanese man serving on a medical mission to Burkina Faso.
The Taiwanese man, who calls himself "Luc" to avoid media publicity, graduated from Taipei Medical University. He went to Burkina Faso last year as an alternative to performing his compulsory military service.
Luc appealed for help from Taiwan after posting reports and pictures of Kabore on the Internet.
Wang said the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation -- established in 1989 by American surgeon-philanthropist Samuel Noordhoff, who has been lauded as "the father of plastic surgery in Taiwan" -- is co-sponsoring Kabore's trip with Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, which is famous for its plastic and craniofacial surgeries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and EVA Airways.
According to members of the Chang Gung plastic surgery team, who have operated on other patients from home and abroad with Von Recklinghausen's disease, the size of Kabore's tumor will make surgery difficult.
In addition to plastic surgeons, the team will also need the assistance of ear, nose and throat doctors and neurosurgeons to carry out the procedure, said Dr. Chen Yu-jui (
Apart from the craniofacial operations, follow-up facial reconstruction will also be challenging, Chen said.
According to Luc, Kabore, who lives in the central Burkina Faso township of Koudougou with his farmer parents, is illiterate as a result of poverty as well as his ailment.
After exhausting local options on how to help his son, Kabore's father heard that a Taiwanese doctor had "magical abilities" in treating difficult ailments.
So he brought his son to Dr. Huang Chi-ling, leader of Taiwan's Medical Aid Mission in Burkina Faso, where Luc had been working.
Kabore's facial tumor began as a small granule on the right side of his face and now covers his right eye and extends down his back.
Huang treated Kabore to the best of his ability, but finally decided that the boy required surgery to remove the tumor.
However, because of the lack of proper hospital equipment and surgical skills, the surgery could not be performed in Burkina Faso or anywhere else in central Africa, prompting Luc to post the appeals for help on the Internet.
Von Recklinghausen's disease, also known as neurofibromatosis, is an inheritable disease characterized by nerve tumors and a variety of other abnormalities of the skin, nervous system, bones, organs and blood vessels. The disease affects about 1 in 4,000 live births.