- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - When little Nora came to Fort Wayne in October, she could barely see.

The 2-year-old from the Ivory Coast was born with closed eyelids, a condition known as bilateral congenital eyelid ptosis, often referred to as drooping eyelids. Unlike cleft palate, which plagues children throughout the undeveloped world, this condition is relatively rare, said Eric Clabaugh, spokesman for Parkview Health, which helped sponsor Nora.

The miracle is that her eyelids are working now, and instead of a life of dimness and injury, her life will be normal, said Dr. Robert Severinac, a Fort Wayne plastic surgeon who performed the surgery at Parkview Medical Regional Center.

Since October, Nora has been living with Todd and Heather Buckmaster, who met the girl’s mother in August when they flew to Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s large port city, to take home Wilfried, another child they had hosted through Ray of Hope Medical Missions. The Fort Wayne-based charity sets up surgeries for children in poor countries.

“We had another little guy with us about a year,” Buckmaster told The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/1JRTUIW). “When Wilfried went home, we met Nora’s family and they asked us if we would keep her while she was here.”

The Buckmasters became a host family after filling out an application and seeking a higher power.

“We just started praying really hard,” said Todd Buckmaster, pastor of the Hoagland Community Church. “We had learned a little bit about Ray of Hope. We just felt like that it would be good for our family.”

Praying to take in a child whose need is great when you have four children of your own, ages 11 to 19, is not on everyone’s Christmas list, but for the Buckmasters this Christmas marks the second one with an extra child in tow.

In order to see through a tiny slit at the bottom of her eyes, Nora would tilt her head back and raise her eyebrows, said Severinac, who performed the surgery on her Dec. 17.

The levator muscles in the back of her eyes that extend up to the upper eyelid were not contracting, thereby not pulling up her eyelids, Severinac said.

A few days after her surgery, which he performed for free, he was pleased with the results. “Her eyes are opening very nicely. She’s just going to get better and better as the swelling goes down,” he said.

Severinac is part of an ad hoc team of medical professionals who rise to the occasion when the ebullient founder of Ray of Hope, Rebecca Ghent, finds a case. Since she left her job as a nurse and founded the mission in November 2012, her charity has hosted 14 children.

She believes each child should feel at home before the surgery is done and then allow the child time for recovery and rehabilitation before going back to his or her native land.

In Nora’s case, the team is hoping she’ll be able to return to Abidjan by Feb. 23, her third birthday.

The cost of hosting a child in Fort Wayne usually runs about $6,000 for flights, medical visas, in-country medical testing and passport. All other services, including occupational and physical therapy, are donated, Ghent said.

“Dr. Severinac is an unbelievably gifted, kindhearted human being. They (the practice) have literally told me, when you have craniofacial kids, you don’t even have to ask,” Ghent said. Craniofacial surgery deals with congenital and acquired deformities of the head.

Parkview’s Clabaugh said allowing these kinds of free surgeries is “part of Parkview’s nonprofit approach.”

Ghent has worked with nongovernmental organizations to bring children from the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Guatemala here for treatment.

For many of the families, their biggest fear is human trafficking.

“That’s a huge concern for these families. We have to kind of build the trust that that won’t happen,” said Ghent, who is the legal guardian of all of the children who come through Ray of Hope.

People from her church, Pathway Community Church, have been generous, she said, but she has found great help from little country churches, as she calls them, too.

One of those is Hoagland Community.

“Pathway is the largest missionary church and we’re (Hoagland) about the smallest,” said Buckmaster who spent 20 years in the tool-and-die trade before he transitioned into full-time ministry three years ago.

A Hoosier born and bred, going to the Ivory Coast in August was an experience he’s not sure he can describe, he said.

“I don’t know if I’ve wrapped my head around it all yet,” he said. “We really fell in love with the people. Our emotional connections were very rich. It’s just different. I don’t know really how to describe it.”

___

Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

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