Traveling on medical missions for more than a decade, Abigail Hayo and surgeon Tammy Neblock-Beirne of Kansas City thought they had seen it all when it came to indigent children.
Then one day last year, 7-year-old Boi Doumbia walked into their clinic in the African nation of Mali.
Boi was struggling to breathe. His face was barely identifiable, taken over by a giant tumor that ballooned and stretched across one side. His jaw was dislocated, and the few teeth he had seemed to dangle down by his neck.
"We were in shock," said Hayo, a volunteer with the locally based Medical Missions Foundation. "Boi was crying, and then we all started crying."
That day, in that clinic, the two women decided to use every bit of muscle and influence they could muster to save a little boy's life.
"He didn't have much time," Hayo said. "His airway would be blocked soon, and there was really little we could do for him in Mali."
Two days after meeting Boi at the clinic, Hayo and Neblock-Beirne flew back to Kansas City on a mission to save him.
First they contacted U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore to help get Boi an emergency visa to the United States.
And when Neblock-Beirne got back to work, she shoved a picture of Boi's face in front of a fellow surgeon, Chris Larsen, as he operated on a patient.
"We have to help this boy," she said.
Larsen, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the University of Kansas Medical Center, assembled a team of experts in neck and head and reconstructive surgery, neurology, radiology, pediatrics and pathology. They all began to clear their schedules as quickly as they could to donate their time.
One doctor on the team, Ossama Tawfik, said the tumor was so rare "a pathologist might only read about it in textbooks and might go through their entire career without seeing one."
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