A month after life-changing surgery in Australia, Papua New Guinean teenager Bradley Bola is on the road to recovery.
Teenager Bradley Bola has suffered Crouzon’s syndrome since birth.
He has been debilitated by the condition, which causes the bones in the skull to prematurely fuse together, and results in painful and abnormal facial deformities.
As a baby doctors in Papua New Guinea were not able to treat his condition, so charity group Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children funded his trip to Australia for pro bono surgery when he was 18 months old.
He returned as a 10-year-old for follow up surgery, and, seven years later, he was back for more treatment.
This time around, Bradley's nerves were at ease.
“I feel like I’m in safe hands,” he says. “This is the day that I have been waiting for.”
Complex surgery carried risks
SBS News was there when Bradley was preparing for his seven-hour surgery at Melbourne’s Epworth Hospital.
Associate Professor Andrew Heggie, the maxillofacial surgeon who led the team operating on Bradley, said the complex surgery had its risks.
“We take a graft from his hip; this is bone that's needed to fill in the gaps which will occur once the upper part of the face is brought forward," he said.
Post-operation, Bradley’s doctors said the surgery went well.
In their first consultation since surgery, Associate Professor Heggie said the healing process is going as planned.
There has been no scarring and no pain.
“He didn't swell as much as many do and you can see the changes around his facial contours, his bite's in the right place.
“The plan was to bring his mid-face, which is the cheekbones and upper jaw, and structures under the eye socket, forward by about a centimetre, and we got very close to that mark.”
Bradley’s emotional mother Nellie Bola praised doctors for improving Bradley’s life, describing them miracle workers.
“I’m relieved,” she said through tears. “And, I just can't believe that his recovery is so very fast.”
'One of the most precious gifts'
The surgery has helped Bradley feel more confident.
“It has been life changing for me," he said.
“That is one of the most precious gifts that I will most definitely treasure in my heart.”
And just before his trip home, Bradley’s fulfilled another dream – watching Melbourne Storm rugby players in a pre-season training session.
The teenager was on the sidelines as the team ran through drills, before he met some players.
He could barely contain his excitement after meeting his favourite player, fullback Billy Slater, telling him, “I never miss one of your games back home on the TV.”
Coach Craig Bellamy was pleased when Bradley told him he liked his coaching style.
He then gave Bradley a team jacket joking, “in case you get cold back in Papua New Guinea”.
Bradley will head back home to Port Moresby with a few extra souvenirs and a new confident outlook in time to spend Christmas with his family.