African teen burn victim celebrates successful surgeries in Torrance

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, December 1, 2016
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After severe burn damage plagued 17-year-old Jespa Ngong Awomah's life, mass donations brought the teen from Africa to Torrance to surgery.

TORRANCE, Calif. (KABC) -- In his home country of Cameroon, 17-year-old Jespa Ngong Awomah was an outcast in his village.

As a toddler, he was severely burned in a cooking fire and received limited medical attention, costing him his eye and limited use of his arm.

"I was just living without friends," Awomah said.

Now, thanks to an effort launched by a single Facebook post from a Hermosa Beach woman, his life is turning around.

Awomah just underwent successful operations to repair some of the burn damage at Torrance Memorial Medical Center - and he celebrated with a big piece of cake and a big thank you to the staff.

Awomah's journey from Cameroon began with a Facebook post.

When Hermosa Beach resident Rashel Mereness was traveling in Africa on a mission with the non-profit Plant A Seed Africa, Awomah left a lasting impression on her.

"He has this smile that lights up the room," Mereness said.

However, bringing Awomah to the United States for surgery was not easy.

"It probably took us close to two years to get the ball rolling with Torrance Memorial and then took about a year to get everything in place," Mereness recalled.

With the help of the Children's Burn Foundation, Awomah arrived in Torrance. Doctors, nurses and staff members volunteered their service and the hospital donated other costs.

"They just bring back my joy," Awomah said.

His lower arm was fused to his upper arm along with his fingers. Dr. Vimal Murthy of Torrance Memorial Medical Center said the goal was to provide Awomah greater motion and mobility in his arm.

Now after eight operations he can do most of the things other teens can do.

"He can grab objects, he can basically help himself with grooming," Murthy said.

Awomah said the first thing he would love to do would be to get behind the wheel.

"Maybe I just can drive with the arm right now," he said.

Awomah will need more donations to help cover his living costs as he waits for additional surgeries, yet he is grateful that he has found a home in a new village.

"That's what it is. It takes a village, right?" Mereness said. "And so if everybody just does a little something, you know, it really adds up."