Man visits San Diego Zoo before undergoing reconstructive surgeries at Sharp Memorial Hospital

20-year-old lost jaw, teeth, tongue in explosion

SAN DIEGO - A 20-year-old man who lost his jaw, teeth and tongue in an explosion in his native Zimbabwe five years ago visited the San Diego Zoo Thursday -- two days before he begins a series of reconstructive surgeries at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

Blessing Makwera was 15 years old when he stuck a cell phone battery in his mouth to free his hands while also tinkering with wires and a detonator. The battery exploded, according to a profile in an episode of "Inside Africa" on CNN.

The nonprofit Operation of Hope, based in Lake Forest in Orange County, has partnered with Sharp Healthcare to provide three surgeries over the next six to eight months. Makwera hopes the operations will allow him to speak, chew and swallow more easily.

"There's not a volunteer on our team that hasn't fallen deeply in love with Blessing," Jennifer Trubenback, president of Operation of Hope, told a local TV station. "He's got quite the village around him, so we're all kind of his cheering section -- his fans -- so just so excited for Saturday."

A surgical team led by physicians Joel Berger and Thomas Vecchione will perform the operations, according to Sharp Healthcare.

The first surgery is scheduled to last about 10 hours. By the time he's done with the three operations, doctors expect to reconstruct his jaw using part of his fibula, repair scar tissue in and around his mouth, and put in a permanent set of false teeth, according to Operation of Hope.

The organization has been raising funds to provide Makwera with housing, dental work, transportation, food and post-operative medical care.

Sharp Healthcare is donating surgical equipment and staff, while the doctors will work on their own time. A Sharp Healthcare spokesman said it is difficult to quantify the monetary value of the donations.

Print this article Back to Top