After two failed attempts at restoring a 12-year-old Kenyan girl’s face that was ravaged from a rare flesh-eating bacteria, she was brought to Stony Brook University Children’s Hospital, where a successful surgery gave her a new smile. Saline Atieno’s successful surgery was made possible by the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids, a charity organization established in 2011 that provides funding for children born with severe facial and craniofacial deformities.

The charity founder and director Leon Klempner performed the surgery alongside Dr. Alexander Dagum, both of whom are members of Stony Brook Hospital. A long-term goal of Klempner’s had been to fundraise, network, and negotiate visas in an effort to provide medical care for Saline. In May 2013, he finally secured the funding to make it possible to send her to the University’s hospital.

"We felt we couldn't leave her there," Klempner told the NY Daily News. He and his team performed the surgery for free.

Saline had been badly disfigured after contracting noma, a rare flesh-eating bacteria that the World Health Organization estimates 80 to 90 percent of people die from every year. The disease mainly affects children from the poorest African countries under the age of 12, with 140,000 new cases reported each year.

"There's always a few children like Saline that get turned away because of the extent of their deformity," Klempner said. "For me, this was the tipping point. She had no friends, wasn't attending school, her father had died to AIDS, her older sister was pregnant, she lived in this remote village with no clean water — it was just a combination of things that pulled at your heartstrings."

When Klempner and Jennifer Crean, the woman who housed Saline for part of her stay, met Saline, they described her as a shy girl who was ashamed of her appearance and constantly looked down at the ground. The reconstructive surgeries were estimated to take four months; however, when Klempner and his team evaluated her condition through CAT scans, they realized her condition was more complicated. The series of surgeries ended up taking a full year.

"We realized after the CAT scan and evaluation it was gonna require quite a few stages, a lot more needed to be done," Dagum said.

First, balloons were inserted under her forehead in order to expand the tissues. The extra flesh would give the surgeons enough tissue to rebuild the nose and palate. Then, grafts were taken from her ribs to reconstruct her nose, and lastly, pieces from her lower lip were used to create a new upper lip.

"She's just very happy, a typical 12-year-old child," Crean said. She loves normal American pastimes like fawning over One Direction, going to the beach, and watching hockey games. "We try to do as many things as possible to show her the American way," she said. "She's been fishing, she's been skiing, ice skating. She very much adapted herself into our way of life easily."

Saline’s successful recovery allows her to return home to her mother and sister in Kenya this Saturday. Since the charity’s success, it has since expanded and is currently working on providing clean water, solar power, and educational opportunities to the children in Saline’s village, God Ong’eche. Klempner is working to arrange surgeries for another two children with medical issues and hopes to continue helping children to lead normal and healthy lives.

"We saw her transform from a shy girl who would cover her face to a girl who plays and enjoys life," Dagum said.