HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - We went inside a Honolulu operating room for a reunion, of sorts, between a Nigerian man and an eye doctor he met when he was just a little boy. The man's journey here to Hawaii spans 22 years, 10,000 miles, and a 38 hour plane ride.
The left eye of 25 year old Buhari Buhari has been causing him problems recently. He's getting it operated on to correct a sagging eyelid and to keep his artificial eye from falling out.
Buhari said before the surgery, "I'm feeling very, very happy and so excited. You know, the way people are willing to help with all these things. I'm very happy - very, very grateful."
Doctor Jorge Camara is reconstructing the lid so it reattaches back to the bone. Along with Dr. Camara, a team of medical personnel and doctors from Hawaii donated time, services, and expertise.
Buhari was just 3 years old when doctors in his native Nigeria diagnosed him with retinoblastoma - cancer in both eyes. With no appropriate care in Nigeria, his father took him to a world-renowned hospital in Saudi Arabia - where he was cared for by an American doctor named Susan Senft. Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer that affects one in 250,000 children, and if left untreated, the tumors usually spread. Dr. Senft says there's a 98% fatality rate, but if the eye is removed, there's a 95% success rate. So, they removed Buhari's left eye. His right one is now cancer-free.
Fast-forward 22 years.
Dr. Senft - who's now living and working in Kona - got a call. She says, "I answered the phone quite skeptically, and the voice on the other end said, 'Dr. Senft. This is Buhari. You saved my life'."
Turns out, Buhari tracked down Senft through Google. And so began six-months of planning, visas, and gathering the medical team for this eyelid surgery and checkups. The non-profit Aloha Medical Mission helped foot the bill.
"It was so dramatic and so touching, the fact that Susan had saved his life and given him this whole new world ahead of him," says Camara.
Senft says, "With all this unrest in the world with tensions between Christians, Americans, Muslims, you know, racial issues, everything - all those barriers just melt away. We're all just human beings, and it's wonderful to reach across differences and to be united together to help someone."
Buhari's artificial eye should now stay in place for good. And as he and his brother, Galazzi, make the long journey back to Africa, they will take with them a bit of aloha.