FORT WORTH –– Not long ago, a walk in public would have made 30-year-old Mohamed Abdulle self-conscious. When Abdulle fled civil war torn Somalia with his brothers at 10-years-old, he woke up in the middle of one night to something he couldn't imagine.
"The way he described it," said interpreter Asli Parker, "is an anaconda came to him, grabbed his mouth and then he started screaming. He was fighting with the snake. And the people woke up and he was trying to swallow him."
Abdulle says the anaconda was a foot thick, long enough to eat animals and people whole. Villagers wrestled the boy from the snake. Infection from the bite left him blind for two years and took his upper lip.
Three years ago, Abdulle was selected for refugee resettlement and found himself in Fort Worth.
Doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital performed a surgery common for lip cancer patients, called a vermilion switch. This was the first time the physicians performed it for a snakebite.
"We take a piece from the bottom out and we flip it up to replace the missing part of the top lip,” said oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Fayette Williams “The bottom part is still attached to the bottom so the lips are tethered together for about three weeks while a new blood supply grows."
The procedure was a success, then came years of orthodontic work to straighten teeth and gums that were damaged during years of exposure.
"The position of your teeth in your mouth is a balance between lip pressure and tongue pressure," said orthodontist Dr. John Kelley. "So if you remove one of the entities, you've got teeth going in the wrong direction."
Years of orthodontics have made eating, drinking and speaking easier.
Abdulle wanted to thank his doctors now that the work is complete. Through an interpreter, he called it a dream come true.
Two of his brothers live in Fort Worth, though he does not know what happened to his sister and father. And while Abdulle still has fang marks on his face, he said he can smile for the first time in two decades.