Thursday, June 30, 2005

British burns unit rebuilds face of Kenyan acid attack victim

Nigel Hawkes:

Raman Malhotra, of the McIndoe Surgical Centre, is helping to treat Sundeep Hunjan, 23, who was horrifically injured in an acid attack

SURGEONS at Britain’s leading burns centre are donating their services to treat a young Kenyan woman horrifically injured in an acid attack.

Sundeep Hunjan, 23, was driving home from work with her father in Nairobi in February when she was attacked. “It was a warm day, and we had the windows open,” she said yesterday. “The next thing, I felt something hot.”

Sundeep and her father were seriously injured in the attack, which has left her with bad scarring on her face, neck and scalp. She was scheduled to be married on April 3.

When surgeons and anaesthetists at the McIndoe Surgical Centre, based at the Queen Victoria NHS Foundation Trust in East Grinstead, West Sussex, heard of her plight, they volunteered to operate free of charge. The first of what may be many operations on Sundeep took place last night, as surgeons replaced her lower eyelids and began to treat heavy scarring on her neck. Raman Malhotra, a consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon at the centre, said that Sundeep had been lucky that her sight was spared — both in the attack and later.

“She cannot close her eyes,” Mr Malhotra said. “It could quite easily have resulted in her becoming blind.” Her sight was saved because she has Bell’s phenomenon, a tendency to rotate the eyeball upwards as she tries to close her eyelids. This has helped to protect her eyes. Replacing the eyelids will require two operations. Last night Mr Malhotra took a skin graft and used it to replace the lower lids. Next Monday he will operate on her upper eyelids.

Sundeep has no idea why she was attacked. But in Bangladesh and other Asian societies where arranged marriages are the norm, acid attacks are often carried out or arranged by disappointed suitors.

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