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LI doctors help heal West African girl

Guedalia Sawadogo, 2, from West Africa, is treated

Guedalia Sawadogo, 2, from West Africa, is treated by therapist Evan Ludin at the Stony Brook University Hospital Hand therapy office in Setauket, NY. (Dec. 1, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

The splint -- no bigger than a soda can -- hides any trace of the painful accident that brought little Guedalia Sawadogo from a remote West African village to a Stony Brook University Medical Center office Thursday.

Though her guardians said she is normally bubbly, the 2-year-old girl let loose a wail as occupational therapist Evan Ludin fastened the splint to her right hand. She wasn't used to being restrained, Ludin said.

Within moments, the girl was smiling again, a far cry from when she was a 9-month-old toddler, who was taking shaky steps around her home in the city of Kaya in central Burkina Faso and stumbled into a pot of boiling cooking oil.

With no specialized care available, the burns to her right hand healed, but the scar tissue forced her index finger into what could have been a permanent claw. "It interfered a lot with any gripping, any grasping," said Dr. Alexander Dagum, who operated on her last month.

Earlier this year, Mastic Beach physical therapist Howard Makofsky met Guedalia in Burkina Faso, where he runs a charity. He reached out to Dagum to see how they might help the child recover use of her hand.

Stony Brook's medical school, where Dagum is a surgery and orthopedics professor and chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery, agreed to treat Guedalia at no cost.

Air France donated two plane tickets, and the child's aunt and uncle, Esther and Georges Sawadogo, traveled with her to New York. They are staying with the Makofskys until physical therapy is finished in about two weeks.

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In the Nov. 14 operation, Dagum cut through the tissue to release her index finger. He grafted skin from her instep to match her hand's skin tones. He also implanted two pins to straighten her index finger.

Thursday, the difficulties of therapy began, with Guedalia learning to move her fingers constantly and properly. "Therapy is like piano lessons. You have to practice, practice, practice," Dagum said.

Guedalia has transitioned to her temporary home easily -- "she goes around singing and chatting" in her native language of More, said Makofsky's wife, Fran, who helped translate the doctor's instructions into French for the Sawadogos. They celebrated Thanksgiving last week with turkey and trimmings.

Guedalia's parents miss her and call frequently. "The parents have never left their village," Fran Makofsky said, so they asked her worldlier uncle and aunt to go.

"Her mother and father will be very happy to see her work with her hands," said her uncle in halting English.

Guedalia has easily charmed some of the Stony Brook staff. "She's wonderful, very easygoing, well-adjusted, cheerful," Dagum said. She'll make a full recovery, he said.

The tiny tot commanded the attention of the entire office Thursday as she shyly told Dagum, "Thank you."

"Thank you," he replied. "You are a good girl."

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