Jespa Awomah, 16, has experienced many recent firsts—first time on
a plane, first time watching TV and first time using a cell phone or computer.
But the biggest firsts he is hoping for is the first use of his right
arm and the ability to close his left eye since experiencing disfiguring
burns at 10-months-old.
Jespa set foot on U.S. soil for the first time in early October after making
a19-hour journey from a small rural village in Cameroon (in Central Africa).
He is here for a year-long schedule of reconstructive surgical treatment
at Torrance Memorial’s Burn Center. The journey was made possible
all thanks to a Facebook posting and the work of the
Children’s Burn Foundation.
“This time next year, our goal is for you to shake hands with me
using your right hand,”
Matthew Reiss, MD, burn and reconstructive plastic surgeon, said to Awomah while shaking
his left hand during his first visit to the hospital.
When the incident occurred, Awomah’s treatment consisted of receiving
a few bandages at a local clinic. He survived his injuries, but lost the
use of his right arm and eye. He is unable to close his left eye due to
nerve damage. Awomah has never received subsequent care.
Awomah is one of 13 children in his family. He hasn’t allowed his
limited mobility to affect his daily life. He actively helps his family
harvest vegetables, takes care of cattle and attends school. He expressed
that he loves to read.
In 2012, Hermosa Beach resident and friend Rashel Mereness traveled Africa
for a mission with Plant A Seed Africa, a Torrance non-profit. While in
Cameroon, she met Awomah and captured video of him. She posted her video
on Facebook with a plea to find him help. Public Relations Manager Colleen
Farrell, a friend of Mereness, spotted the video and forwarded it to the
Torrance Memorial Burn Center staff. The child captured their heart, as well as that of the Children’s
Burn Foundation, which stepped in to fund all of his travel and medical
treatment costs. Torrance Memorial doctors are donating their time for his care.
Awomah visited Torrance Memorial for the first step in his treatment in
mid-October of 2015. Later that month, he underwent his first procedure
to release his forearm, which had become attached to his upper arm, as
a result of the burn, and to rebuild his right eyelid.
Awomah’s story continues to inspire others. That same month, Torrance
Memorial patient account representative Darlene Atkinson, met members
of the Imani Milele Children, a choir made up of orphans from Uganda,
through Susan Hernandez, a Torrance Memorial banking systems operator.
The choir was visiting Torrance as part of a U.S. tour. Its members were
staying in Hernandez’ home. Atkinson contacted Farrell to find out
if it would be possible for Awomah to receive a visit from the choir.
Upon hearing about the choir’s interest, Awomah was elated. According
to his chaperon Rebecca Akumbu, throughout the afternoon he repeatedly
asked, “When will the choir be here?” Akumbu traveled from
Africa with Awomah to be his caretaker for the year.
The choir arrived and sang a half a dozen songs for Awomah. Moved by the
music, he sat up in bed and his foot began to tap. According to Atkinson,
the choir was equally moved and spoke about their visit for the rest of
Awomah is still a bit shy, but his wide smile speaks a thousand words to
those he meets. In his soft voice, he uses the words “thank you”
often. When asked how he is doing, he is always quick to respond. “I
am very happy; very happy.”
You can follow Jespa Awomah’s journey on at
www.facebook.com/childburn. You can watch Mereness’ video on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/childburn, or donate at
Photos by Christina House