Adwoa Frimpomaah wore an earring in each ear, and a pair of snazzy gold-and-black heels as she sat in the living room of Jean and Vic Valente in St. James Thursday.
Frimpomaah, 20, is worlds away from her village in Ghana. The Valentes brought Frimpomaah to Long Island in 2006 for treatment after she suffered severe injuries in a hit-and-run accident in Ghana as she walked home with a basket of corn and yams.
The crash sheared off Frimpomaah's right ear and left her with deep raw scars on her scalp, face, chest and legs. Her leg was broken in four places and several teeth were knocked out.
The Valentes - who run Beyond our Borders, a small nonprofit - were able to secure several surgeries free of charge for Frimpomaah, including a complex operation in 2006 at the former Schneider Children's Hospital in which a plastic surgeon created a new ear for Frimpomaah using cartilage from her rib.
Frimpomaah, who was orphaned at a young age, went back to her village in Ghana in 2008, but returned to Long Island last year for additional treatment on her ear and her remaining scars.
Dr. Andrew Jacono, the plastic surgeon who created the ear, called Frimpomaah "an amazing success story."
"Now she has essentially no scarring on her face, no balding on her scalp, and she has her ear now. I think she's doing great," Jacono said. "She's very quiet and very sweet. She says thank you, and that's all the payment that I need."
Frimpomaah has been living with the Valentes, who she calls "Nana" and "Pop Pop," until she leaves for Ghana at the end of October.
"I'm very happy," said Frimpomaah, a shy young woman of few words. Frimpomaah knew no English when she met the Valentes, but has since learned to speak it.
She said she was surprised that the Valentes helped her, but she is grateful, too. Her disfigured appearance would have caused her village to turn against her, she said.
"It would have been bad," Frimpomaah said. "They weren't going to treat me very well - no respect."
Frimpomaah is currently training with dentists John Primavera and Pamela Combs - a couple who also runs Beyond our Borders - to learn about working in a dental clinic. When Frimpomaah returns to Ghana, she has a job lined up in the capital, where she'll work in a clinic that will be built there.
While she can't read, "she learns quickly," Primavera said.
The Valentes are no strangers to good deeds. Beyond our Borders has reached out to El Salvador as well as Ghana, and the Valentes have hosted others in their home who have needed medical care, including a teenage boy from El Salvador who lived with them for a year while undergoing treatment.
Jean Valente said her religious convictions as a Roman Catholic spurred her and her husband to open their home.
"It's very easy to write a check. And writing a check isn't always as far as you can go," she said. "It's more than a checkbook. It's giving of yourself and your time and efforts as far as you're able to do so."