SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - 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 just days before he was set to begin a series of reconstructive surgeries at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Blessing Makwera was 15-years-old when the accident happened. He discovered a device on the ground, not aware that it was from a land mine. The device exploded, destroying Blessing's jaw, teeth, tongue and lips.
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 CBS 8. "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, scheduled for Saturday, March 2, was expected to last about 10 hours. 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.
Three months later Makwera will return for the dental implants.
"So when he leaves his second operation, he's going to have his smile back and he's going to be able to chew and eat," explained Dr. Joel Berger with Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Makwera says he's ready for the surgeries:
"Oh yeah, I'm very excited. Feels like a dream."
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.