A Face for Yulce
The miracle of Yulce is a story that shows that nothing is impossible. She was severely burned in an accident and went without treatment for months. Through a series of open doors a way was made for her to get the reconstructive surgery that changed her life. The following articles tell this amazing story in detail. Read and rejoice. A Face for Yulce wins award.
It was the face of Yulce that was so shocking. I went to see this badly burned child in February of 2004. Esther Scarborough, IFC Medical Director, took me to the village of Paca on the Island of Halmahera in the East Indonesian province of North Maluku. We waited for her to arrive at the home as we sat in anticipation. We were surrounded by hundreds of people, mainly children. The chatter and commotion went totally silent, and I knew she was close. I thought she must have grown all too used to the stunned silence since her injury. In a few moments, she walked from the darkness into the room. My first impression was shock. I got “butterflies” in my stomach and just looked at this little girl in front of me. She was as surprised as we were as she wondered what all these people were doing in her home. It did not take long to realize that these injuries were so devastating that they would require extensive reconstructive surgery. I knew at this point that we were not here to simple show sympathy to Yulce and her family. We were here to get her help. I asked if I could take photos of her injuries, because an evaluation of her burns would be needed to show the extent of the injury as well as the amount of good skin she had to use for grafting. These photos proved to be an important step in her future.
Yulce and her mother came to see us over the next week. I could begin to see the toughness that was under those scars. The story of the accident began to emerge. She was asked to help with some daily chores. She was asked to get some kerosene for the lamps. She was from a very poor family and lived in a split-bamboo home in this remote village. Her father worked hard in his garden, and her mother sold fish in the market. Life was not easy for her, and she did what she could to help the family. Her family was not wealthy, but they had love for one another, and Yulce was willing to help with her younger brother and sister. It was November 2002 when the horrible accident happened. She came home with the kerosene she had bought and tried to pour it into a smaller container. She did not realize the flame from the nearby lamp would cause the explosion that would change her life. She was on fire and cried out as she tried to get out the door. She finally fell through the front door and to the ground. The neighbor ran over and put the fire out and took the clothes off Yulce. Word travels quickly in the village, and soon everyone was shocked at the news of her burn.
The next days were followed with tough questions. Will she survive? Will she have a productive life? Yulce was taken to a local “traditional healer” who gave her some coconut oil to cover the wounds. There was little medical help in the region since the crisis in the Maluku region. The hospitals had been burned, and the medical staff had fled to more secure regions. There were few options, and Yulce went eight months without treatment or pain medicines other than a couple of Tylenol. This was the miracle – that she could manage the level of pain and survive the potential infections. Her parents not only had to do what they could to help her with the pain, but they had to deal with the remarks of other villagers. They were told to just let her die. She smelled so bad that some saw little hope for her. Hope was a very rare commodity in those days. Her parents loved her and did all they could to keep her comfortable and fed. Her pain must have been off the charts, and she found it hard to eat and sleep. She could not close her eyes, and she could not open her mouth very easily. I asked her how she survived through those painful days, and she said, “I prayed and asked the Lord to help me.” She survived on her faith and toughness. One thing I learned about her was that she was a very courageous person. Sixteen months followed from that fateful day until we took the photos. She had become a productive part of the family. She worked in the garden even with her disabilities. Her life was simple – you work to get what you eat. What you do not eat, you sell at the market. Everyone worked. She must have given up on her dreams. She knew she was not pretty and would not marry. She lost more than her appearance; she had lost her dreams. I did not want to give them false hopes and told them we would see what we could do, but there were no promises. This was hard, because I wished I could have given them something firm for them to hold onto as I was leaving.
The photos became an important key for the next door to open. When I arrived back home in Alaska, I took a photo of her face and sent it to our mailing list. I asked for help to locate a hospital, doctor, or burn center that would be willing to help her. We had about ten hopeful names that were contacted. I could tell there were some real good people out there who wanted to help. A friend of mine, Perry Schneider, contacted me and told me about another badly burned girl who was treated by a doctor in Los Angeles. I had not heard about this child but got the name of the doctor and sent a note and photo of Yulce to Dr. Peter Grossman. Ironically, that night after sending the note, I saw the story of Zubaida for the first time on Discovery Health. Zubaida and Yulce had so many similarities including how they were injured. Yulce actually had a bit more severe burns than Zubaida. Yulce had lost her lower lip in the burn. The following morning, an e-mail awaited me from Dr. Grossman. I opened it with a flood of emotions. He expressed interest but no promises. I sent more photos, and it was not long before Dr. Grossman agreed to take her. He thought it would take twelve surgeries and a year to do all the surgeries and therapy. Dr. Grossman spoke to the Children’s Burn Foundation who also agreed to fund the surgeries. These were two major steps in seeing this miracle come to pass.
These were so many important details that needed to be accomplished; passports and visas were first on the list. Securing a host home, translators and transport to America were also big hurdles. Rebecca Grossman, Peter’s wife, used her experience with securing Zubaida’s documents and her contacts in the State Department to open some doors. Senator Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator from Alaska, also agreed to contact the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia. This was post 9-11, and the Homeland Security has strict entry requirements. The passports for Yulce and her mother, Yulnice, went well. They made the contact with the representative at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and set a date for an appointment. This process usually takes three months. They arrived at the appointment, and in one day they had their visas approved. While all this was underway, Rebecca set to find an Indonesian group to help with translation and possibly host them while they were here. That week Dr. Peter Grossman was riding his bicycle and stopped in front of an Indonesian Church. Gereja Bethany Indonesia was contacted, and they wanted to help in any way they could. They offered to provide a host home, translators and transportation. Tina Johnson became the key person and proved to be such an important part of this miracle. Pastor Adinata and the congregation would become the family for Yulce and her mother. Pastor Gene Richardson of Shepherd of the Hills also provided support. The support net was now in place.
This was a true story of hope. LMNO Productions decided to film this story. They sent a videographer to Indonesia before Yulce and her mother left for Los Angeles. The life of Yulce and her story were now being documented for what would eventually become “The Face of Yulce” to be aired on The Learning Channel. Esther Scarborough traveled with them on their journey to the Grossman Burn center in Sherman Oaks. This was no small ordeal. This was a life-changing quest. It was the door to her future. There were stops in Singapore and Tokyo on the way to a year in America.
Yulce arrived at LAX on August 23, 2004. She met so many people and spent the first night in the host home of Andoko Setiadi. This new place was so different to her jungle village! She was amazed at so many cars and miles of concrete. Where were the oxen and carts they were used to at home? There were no open markets with vegetables and fish for sale. There were large inside markets with overflowing shelves. On her 13th birthday, she went to Disneyland, and in the evening she was admitted to the Sherman Oaks Hospital to prepare for her first surgery in the morning. She was so brave and knew she was in America to get the life changing surgeries!
The next morning, August 26th, was the first surgery. This was a major step, and Dr. Peter Grossman and his team would free her neck from the contractures that had melted her lower face into her chest. She was in the expert hands of a very skilled surgeon, a man with a huge heart of compassion. This was the first step in a marathon of twelve surgeries that would last the next year. She came out of this surgery with her neck free for the first time since November of 2002. She would now need the skin grafting to cover the exposed areas of her neck and chin. The discovery of the lower lip and muscle structure was so important to her future appearance. The lip was hidden inside the scarring. The unique texture of the lip is hard to recreate. This was one of the most important things for Yulce. She wanted to be able to put her lips together again. It is small things that matter. Just think of how many times we put our lips together in a day. We do not even think about it. But to her this simple thing would make all the difference for her. I will never forget the note from Dr. Grossman after this surgery. He said, “I found a little girl under those scars.” Her miracle was now beginning.
She had the support of her mother and the loving Indonesian hosts and church family. In the next months, she showed her strength and toughness as she had a dozen surgeries. She had both arms freed in two separate surgeries followed by numerous therapy sessions. Her eyes could not close when she came, and she had trouble sleeping. She had a number of surgeries to reshape her eyes and mouth. It was a long road full of regular trips to the hospital. She won the hearts of so many as they saw her resolve and courage. She loved Dr. Peter Grossman and his wife. There were so many who showed kindness and concern for her. Tina Johnson coordinated all of her appointments and daily life.
Tina did such an awesome job and should be recognized as an important part of this miracle. Tina is a humble and gifted lady who did all she could to make Yulce’s time in America a complete success. Yulce and her mother lived in a host home arranged by the Gereja Bethel Indonesia. The host family was Indonesian which made the language adjustment much easier. Yulce had a desire to learn English and really progressed in her English skills. Yulce went to a private school where she received one-on-one tutoring. She is smart and did very well, showing her determination to learn. The time in school was especially important because she made some good friends. These friends supported her and made her feel a part of the group. There were special times going to amusement parks, riding horses, and attending parties. The Christmas play at her church was also a memorable time for her as she was an angel. She grew to like Pizza Hut and McDonalds. She adjusted to American life very well. Her time was full of learning, surgeries, and therapy.
The time finally came for her to go back to her home in Indonesia. She had completed twelve surgeries, and her appearance was radically improved. It was now the end of August 2005, and she had finished a miracle year. She loved her time in America but needed to go home to see her father, brother, and sister. She had made a lot of friends in her year in America, but she needed to go home and resume her life.
Their bags were packed full, and they were wide-eyed in anticipation of the journey home. Yulce must have imagined what her father would think of her new face. How she must have anticipated the reaction of her friends! There was a tearful goodbye with friends. Soon they were on their way home via Tokyo, Singapore, and then Indonesia. The smells and sounds were familiar as they arrived in Indonesia. The people were all speaking their language. It was a bit of a shock. They spent the night in a hotel and left in the morning for their home island. The day had finally come to return to her village. Yulce’s grandmother came by the place where we were staying and fitted Mary Claire Hodges and me with the traditional dress.
We were going to escort her to her home. Mary Claire looked absolutely beautiful, and I was, well – in a dress. We drove to the village and were told to get out of the car and walk the rest of the way down the road to her home.
There were people everywhere lining the street on both sides. There was a singing group that stood before us. These were the children from her school, and they sang a welcome song to her. We continued to walk when a percussion band began to play their unique music. It was loud and had a Polynesian beat. We turned the corner to the right, and I could see the home in the distance. Yulce was sandwiched between Mary Claire and me as we stood together in the road within sight of her home. Waiting at her home was her father. He stayed home the year she was gone and worked, as his daughter and wife spent the year far far away. The road was lined with the happy villagers. The music was playing when a boy dressed in the warrior’s garments began to dance with a machete and shield toward us. He was fierce and very serious about his dance. He was joined by two girls who danced the traditional dance alongside him as he advanced closer and closer to us. He reached us and then led us to the home where her father was waiting. I took her hand and gave it to her father.
He shed some tears as he would hug her then look at her. He had his girl back again. He said she was beautiful. What a reunion! The celebration began with us sitting in the seats of honor. It was a dance marathon. We danced for a total of five hours. The first three hours were what we called the warrior’s dance. The men would hold a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. They would crouch down and hold the shield in a defensive position and then use the sword to slash in the air. This was to simulate a ferocious warrior in battle.
The men would place the sword and shield in front of a person, and they would take the instruments of war and begin to dance. It was a lot of fun to see these men share their skills with the sword. I even got a chance to show my best moves. It was not too intimidating, but it was fun. We then danced for two hours following speeches and some food. The speeches were all giving thanks to so many people these villagers did not know. Yulce’s father shared his thanks and gratitude for all that was given to them. The pastor in the village expressed his thanks with these words, “If I could think of a more beautiful word I would use it, but all I can say is thank you.”
An intricate line dance followed the speeches. This dance was in a circle with a caller (like a square dance) who gave commands. It was exhausting, and we shared this joyous time with the family and villagers. It was late when we left and said our goodbyes to everyone. She was home, and she was a new person! Yulce had her miracle. We celebrated the compassion of so many caring people who made this miracle possible.
Yulce was back to her normal life. She was in school and also continued her English language classes. She had to cross the world to start her life over again.
Carl Cady—U.S. Director for International Friends of Compassion
A special thanks to:
- Peter Scarborough (IFC Field Coordinator)—coorindated all the visas and passports
- Esther Scarborough (IFC Medical Director)—she found Yulce in her remote village.
Dr. Peter Grossman (Grossman Burn Center)–Reconstructive surgeon who led the treatment of Yulce
- Dr. Richard Grossman – Reconstructive surgeon who assisted in her surgeries
Grossman Burn Center Staff – who gave loving care to Yulce during surgeries and therapy.
- Rebecca Grossman – who opened so many doors and had many special times with Yulce
Barbara Friedman (Director for the Children’s Burn Foundation)–who funded the surgeries and therapy.
- Patrick Endres (Alaska Photo Graphics)–for the amazing talent and support he gave to posting the updates.
- Tina Johnson–who gave tireless hours of coordination of housing, transportation, translators and everything else – Tina was a miracle worker.
- Andoku and Herna Satiady – who provided a home and lots of love and friendship
Pastor Adinata (Pastor of Gereja Bethel Indonesia)–who showed unconditional love and wisdom in organizing her housing and care.
- Gereja Bethel Indonesia Congregation – who all became her family away from home
Gene Richardson (Missions Pastor at Shepard of the Hills)–thanks for providing support for her daily living.
- Carrie Lederer (Carrier Pigeon Productions)–videographer who traveled to Indonesia twice to document the before and after story .
- Ruth Rivins (VP Special Projects LMNO Productions)–she did a great job with the program and showed a loving heart of concern for Yulce.
- Chris Werber (Producer at LMNO Productions)—she coordinated the filming of the project and shed a few tears of joy for Yulce along the road to recovery.
- International Friends of Compassion Board of Directors who supported every step of the way.
- International Friends of Compassion staff in Tobelo Indonesia who give respect and decency to aid work.
- Barney and Anita Cork who were some of our best cheerleaders—your support and enthusiasm meant so much.
- Tildie Hodson–a wonderful Australian schoolgirl from Taree, NSW, who made her entire school aware of Yulce. She organized a school dance to raise funds and to pray for Yulce. What an amazing young lady.
- Jorge Arciniega–is a talented videographer who filmed hours of Yulce in her everyday life. He captured not only her face but her heart
- A special thanks to everyone who prayed, visited, sent notes on encouragement and gave to make this miracle possible