FORT WASHINGTON, Pa. -Local doctors and loving families from two very different worlds join forces behind an incredible little boy who survived a tragic attack.
FOX 29’s Joyce Evans has a tear-jerking story about how far good people are still willing to help when a child is hurt.
His sneakers are cool. He’s smart as a whip and fast as lightning.
“He is a force to be reckoned with on the soccer field,” said Peter Doerschler, the boy’s guardian.
A quick study, learning all kinds of languages curious and engaging all wrapped into one adorable little 8-year-old boy.
“He’s a spunky little guy, isn’t he?” Dr. Thomas Balshi said.
He’s also a very brave and patient little guy in a serious dental surgery chair — way more than most adults can handle — awake. Even more special, this second-grader is not getting work on his teeth. It’s his nose.
“I looked at him and I started to get a little emotional about it,” Balshi said.
Emotional about all the suffering Sisay Taye had already endured.
Sisay’s long and painful journey began about three years ago, halfway around the world in Ethiopia, Africa. A hyena pounced on Sisay, right in the yard of his home in Kolu, a small farming village.
“It took his nose and his upper jaw in one clean swoop,” Balshi said.
Sisay’s dad grabbed his bleeding son, carrying him on foot to the closest town, Bedesa, about an hour away. There, somebody with a jeep drove the father and son almost five hours to a city hospital in Addis Ababa.
There, Sisay’s massive wound was healing remarkably, but he needed major reconstructive surgery to breathe, eat, and speak normally.
Enter doctor Adam Waksor, a specialist from northeastern Pennsylvania visiting his homeland, where he donates high-tech oral surgery services.
Waksor arranged to have Sisay and his father flown from Africa to the Geisinger Medical Center near Scranton, Pa.
There, Sisay got an upper lip and implants in his cheeks. He also got a glue-on prosthetic nose and a host family, the Doerschlers, who would become much more after Sisay’s father’s visa ran out.
His dad had to make the tough decision to leave his boy behind for a shot at a better life.
“He was saying, ‘I have to do this to give him an opportunity, to give one of my kids a chance to get out of poverty,” said Peter’s wife, Lisa.
When it became clear that a nose held on by glue was not practical for a fast-growing, very activity little boy, Scranton-area doctors sought the help of Philadelphia area experts at the Pi Dental Center in Fort Washington.
“We needed to work on the other nose first,” Balshi said. “When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure what we could do, you know, because we had never run across anything like this before.”
The doctor called on is son, Stephen, a biomedical engineer to build a longer-lasting framework that could expand a bit as Sisay grows and strong enough to hold his nose in place and not fall off.
“It’s a real experiment?” Evans asked.
“It is. It’s, from our eyes, it’s one of a kind,” Stephen Balshi said.
You’ve heard that saying “necessity is the mother of all invention.” Well, that’s exactly what these local doctors are doing here.
“There are no words,” Lisa Doerschler said. “There are no words. It’s incredible.”
“It is amazing ’cause we’re doing something we’ve never done before,” Thomas Balshi said. “We needed to figure out a way to give him something that wouldn’t fall off.”
His son, Stephen Balshi said, “Our design involved what we’re terming the Mother Ship.”
Thomas Balshi explained, ”We’re calling it the Mother Ship ’cause it looks like something from Star Wars.”
It’s milled out of a solid block of titanium, and it has receptacles to receive two so-called “rare earth” magnets, which are super strong and have powerful pull to hold Sisay’s new nose in place. Then come the adjustable extenders.
“The three bars will allow for that growth to happen,” Stephen Balshi said.
For a life-like nose to fit on the framework, blend in to Sisay’s face, and move like a soccer star.
Thomas Balshi called on Temple University’s School of Dentistry to borrow his former classmate, Dr. William Reiger, and his partner, Jim Blakely. They’re masters at creating silicon ears and noses for adult patients.
“It’s a lot different working with a child,” Reiger said.
It’s different, tedious and time-consuming, but not impossible.
Jim Blakely fashioned a special device for Sisay to remove the nose from those rare-earth magnets. They call it the “nose picker.”
Finally came the opportunity this young boy had been dreaming of, what his Ethiopian parents prayed for when they allowed him to stay in a foreign land with a foreign language at only 6 years old — left with American guardians who want nothing less for him as a permanent member of their family.
“I don’t think we feel like it’s anything special that we’re doing,” Peter Doerschler said. “We’re just trying to do our part to help a kid who’s a great kid and needs somebody to really care for him.”
Sisay’s entire American family came down from Bloomsberg, Pa., for this moment.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to lose sight of the fact that this offering of high-tech, beautiful, artistic nose is opening up a world for him,” Lisa Doerschler said.
The stoic 8-year-old tries to hold back, but we did catch a slight smile. Then, it’s back to just being a boy.
Asked to sum up this day, Thomas Balshi called it, “Awesome. This is just, it’s a thrill to be a professional. … It’s just a thrill for us. We’re so happy we could do this for him.”
“I don’t even know what to say. I’m so grateful and so happy,” Lisa Doerschler said. “Everybody’s heart was in this. It was so much more about heart than technicality, and it really blew me away!”
“This is unbelievable!” said another family member. “To see him, it fits his face – what can you say? It’s just amazing. Now, he’s out there just playing like a normal, active kid. It’s gonna change his life.”
“You like it?” Evans asked Sisay?
“Yeah,” he answered.
And, for the first time on camera, Sisay expresses how the new nose makes him feel.
“It gives me more power,” he said.
His words are few now, but his parents know he’ll open up later.
“He’ll give us a huge snuggle and say something like, ‘I got a new nose mommy, and I can go to school and nobody’s gonna point at me and – it’s just really special,” Lisa Doerschler said.
Sisay will undergo much more tweaking, adjusting, and surgeries until he’s grown, including teeth implants. Every single treatment here, including all of his noses, are being donated.
You, too, can help at PI Dental Center at the following link: http://pidentalcenter.com.
It looks like Sisay is going to be legally adopted last month by the Doerschlers.
Evans reported that Sisay speaks with his parents in Ethiopia by phone as often as he can, asking how they’re doing and even how his goats are doing.
The entire Doerschler family is planning a trip to Ethiopia.