This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on July 22, 1993.
By Kathleen Martin Beans, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT
Ligia Iacob returned home to her native Romania yesterday a different person than when she left there 10 months ago. She has a new face and a new way of looking at the world, thanks to many people in the Doylestown community.
“It’s like night and day,” said Bruce Young, a member of the Doylestown Rotary Club, the group that sponsored the 20-year-old Iacob in the United States. “Before she started treatment, she stood out in the crowd. Now you can tell she has had work done on her face, but she certainly is 100% better. It’s a miracle. It really is.”
Born with hairy nevus, a rare and disfiguring condition on her face, Iacob was unable to lead a normal life. Wherever she went, people stared at the spongelike, pigmented birthmark with long black hairs.
The birthmark covered about two-thirds of her forehead, her eyelids and eyebrows, her entire left cheek and part of her left ear, said Marvin T. Hunter, the plastic surgeon who donated his services to remove it. He performed six operations over the course of 10 months. She will return to Doylestown Hospital again next year for more plastic surgery on the scars that resulted from the operations.
Iacob’s plight came to the attention of the Doylestown Rotary Club through Bill and Janet Haines of Buckingham, who are on the board of directors of the Pearl Buck Foundation. Janet Haines, who is in Romania teaching English, took a photograph of Iacob during one of her trips and showed it to several people in the Doylestown Rotary Club.
After the Romanian revolution in 1989, the Rotary Club began a program to help foreigners get medical treatment in the United States. Iacob is the second person helped by the program, said Bill Haines. The first, a 15-year-old Romanian girl with severe leg burns, was treated at Shriners Hospital in Boston three years ago and is living with the Haines family.
Iacob’s flight to the United States was paid for by philanthropist John Crossley of Erwinna. Crossly was contacted by three Romanian sisters living in Erwinna who are friendly with Iacob’s family.
Hunter, contacted by Young, agreed to donate his services. Doylestown Hospital agreed not to charge for Iacob’s stay there. Rotary Club members provided Iacob with financial and moral support while she lived in Erwinna with the Romanian sisters.
“It is a true community project,” said Young. “Americans can be wonderful people when they reach out and help others.”
Hunter said Iacob, who speaks little English, was remarkably well-adjusted for someone who was raised in a closed society. He was pleased to see her walking without being self-consciousness through the Delaware Valley College campus at the college’s agricultural fair in the spring.
Trained as a nurse in Romania, Iacob plans to work in that profession in her own country.
Without the surgery, Hunter said she would have continued to hide her face in social situations. “She would not be seen,” Hunter said. “In the Middle Ages, she would not have been able to survive.”