At 18 months old, Princela was a cheerful toddler playing nearby as her mother cooked a meal in their home in a small village about 50 kilometers outside of Dehradun, India. The pot held chula stew, a regional favorite, as it cooked over an open fire. In a tragic accident, the pot spilled on Princela, badly burning much of her forehead and scalp.
In India, more than a million people suffer from moderate or severe burn injuries each year. Women and girls are at a higher risk for burns due to their higher burden of domestic labor and the prevalence of open fires used for cooking and heating. Gender-based disparities in burn care can lead to sub-par treatment for these women and girls, resulting in lasting scarring and disfigurement that lead to social stigmatization.
For these reasons, the young Princela’s parents knew the cooking accident could change her life forever. Following the incident, Princela was left with severe scarring on her forehead and scalp that prevented hair from growing on a portion of her head. All too familiar with the stigma surrounding scars and the impact such an injury could have on a girl’s life, Princela’s parents did what they could to protect their daughter.
At six years old, Princela hadn’t started school due to fears that her scars would lead to stigmatization and poor treatment from the other children. Without an education, she had little hope for the future. But Princela’s parents were determined to improve her fate.
Each year, the family visited Dehradun to sell ornaments to supplement their income. During one of these trips, they learned about the surgery center operated by Dr. Kush Aeron with support from ReSurge International. Instead of returning home for the rest of the year, the family stayed in the city in hopes of getting help for their daughter.
“They waited for almost an entire year,” Dr. Aeron told us. “We could operate on the child for free, but the parents had to pay for the tissue expander we needed. They stayed in Dehradun for an entire year to work and earn enough money to purchase the $700 tissue expander.”
A tissue expander is a medical device used to stretch and increase the growth of healthy tissue. Resembling a balloon, the expander is first surgically inserted beneath healthy tissue near the damaged region. In Princela’s case, it was inserted beneath an undamaged portion of her scalp. Then, the tissue expander is gradually inflated over a period of time in order to encourage new tissue growth. Eventually, the new, healthy tissue is used to replace the damaged tissue.
Dr. Aeron performed Princela’s tissue expander surgery in the spring of 2023. Over eight weeks, the expander inflated, resulting in health growth of new scalp tissue. Finally, Dr. Aeron was able to remove the formerly damaged tissue and replace it with new, healthy growth.
“Notably, the healthy tissue was able to regrow Princela’s hair,” Dr. Aeron shared. “Now, when you see her, there is very little sign of the injury to begin with. Whereas before there was a large area of scarring with no hair growing, now she just has a small scar from the procedure.”
Today, Princela is enrolled in a state-run school and is thriving. The impact of reconstructive surgery on her life is immeasurable – she can attend school and interact with her peers without the fear of the stigma associated with severe scarring. But Princela hasn’t forgotten. When Dr. Aeron spoke with Princela’s father in the fall of 2023, he learned that Princella remembers the scarring she carried for much of her young life — and she remembers the impact of Dr. Aeron and his team. Princela’s father shared that when she grows up, she hopes to become a doctor.
Patients like Princela demonstrate why ReSurge International’s work is so important. To support Dr. Aeron and other providers around the world, you can donate today.