Warning: This article contains images from before surgery.

Rebuilding Faces

A Hull surgeon has been filmed for a TV documentary rebuilding two girls’ faces.

Kelvin Mizen, a maxillofacial consultant, has travelled to Ethiopia for 10 years to help children with Noma. Noma is a bacterial infection that is caused by extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition. If not treated it can lead to gangrene.

Extraordinary People

Filmed as part of the Extraordinary People series for Channel 5, the documentary team followed Dr Mizen’s journey. In the episode featuring Dr Mizen’s work he rebuilds the faces of a 14 and 20 year old.

Dr Mizen said:

I do this because you can make a proven difference to people’s lives.

But for every child we see, there are another 10 still to be found. It’s battlefield triage and we’re overwhelmed by the need.


Dr Kelvin Mizen
Dr Kelvin Mizen is a maxillofacial consultant at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.


Noma, also known as cancrum oris, can be prevented by taking antibiotics and with immediate nutritional support if it is detected early. However, if left untreated, mouth ulcers lead to agonising swelling in the cheeks and lips.

Within a few days gangrene can set in, leaving gaping holes in children’s faces. Sadly, 90% of people with Noma will die from sepsis.

Dr Kelvin Mizen treating Ethiopians with Noma
One of the young girls treated by Dr Mizen on his trip.

The disease was eradicated from England in the 19th century. This is due to living conditions improving drastically with the Industrial Revolution. It made a brief reappearance during the World Wars due to malnutrition.

Unfortunately the disease is still rampant in 39 of the 46 countries in Africa. The World Health Organisation has estimated 140,000 new cases every year, many of which are children under six years old.

Facing Africa

Facing Africa are a charity that were set up in 1998. They are dedicated to helping children suffering from Noma and other severe facial deformities.

The charity has volunteer surgeons, anaesthetists, theatre, and nursing staff from the UK and Ireland. Twice a year they make the trip to Ethiopia to help those suffering. During the trips they will see around 70 patients, operating on around 40.

Dr Mizen Ethiopia Noma
Another girl treated by Dr Mizen on his trip to Ethiopia.

When asked about his work with Facing Africa, Dr Mizen said:

Both of these girls would have died and at least one of them would have bled to death if we hadn’t saved her.

Her family had a washing business and people believed God had done this to them.

The family’s business was suffering because people didn’t come anymore because they didn’t want to ‘catch’ anything,

So, the girl was physically and verbally abused by her father and was ostracised by her family.

After treatment both girls were able to return to school.

Tune In

The documentary following Dr Mizen’s work is expected to air later this year on Channel 5.