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Afghan girl whose nose was cut off meets with local doctors, prepares for treatment

August 13, 2010 |  2:21 pm

Time_55434968 An Afghan girl featured on the Aug. 9 cover of Time magazine after her nose was cut off met with Southland doctors this week in preparation for treatment.

The 18-year-old, identified only as Bibi Aisha (Miss Aisha), told Time that her nose and ears were cut off by her abusive husband -- with Taliban approval -- to punish her for running away. The controversial photo appeared with the headline, "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan."

The Grossman Burn Foundation, based in Calabasas, paid to bring Aisha to Los Angeles, found an Afghan host family that speaks Pashtun and is funding her treatment at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital. That could include a prosthetic nose or reconstruction of her nose and ears using bone, tissue and cartilage from the rest of her body, according to Dr. Peter Grossman, a plastic surgeon and the center’s co-director.

Aisha has met with Grossman and other surgeons twice since she arrived last week, most recently on Thursday, according to a statement released Friday by foundation spokeswoman Stacy Tilliss.

“The purpose of these meetings has been to evaluate her physically and emotionally in order to determine the best course for her treatment, and to explain to her everything the surgeries will entail so she can make informed decisions before consenting to moving ahead with the operations,” Tilliss said.

“This is a difficult time for any patient, but especially so for Bibi Aisha,” Tillis wrote. “She has not agreed to make any media appearances yet, and her doctors feel that exposing her to the kind of intense media scrutiny that she faced before coming to the Grossman Burn Center would only distract her from focusing on this critically important phase of her treatment plan.”  

Aisha had been given away by her Pashtun family in Oruzgan province at the age of 16 to pay a debt and married to a Taliban fighter, according to her account. She fled, but her husband’s family tracked her down last year and, upon order from a Taliban court, her husband cut off her nose and left her in the mountains to die, according to a statement on the foundation’s website.

“Bibi Aisha is only one example of thousands of girls and women in Afghanistan and throughout the world who are treated this way,” the statement said. “Aisha is reminded of that enslavement every time she looks in the mirror. But there still times she can laugh. And at that moment you see her teenage spirit escaping a body that has seen a lifetime of injustice.”

Aisha was assisted by an American military provincial reconstruction team and a women’s shelter in Kabul, where she stayed until last week, when she boarded a plane to the U.S. via London, leaving behind a sister and other family, according to the foundation statement and Tilliss.

Officials at Women for Afghan Women, the nonprofit that operates the Kabul shelter, have said Aisha’s case shows why international forces must not leave the country.

“Soldiers in Afghanistan saved Bibi’s life, nursed her back to health in their clinic, flew her to the WAW shelter,” said Esther Hyneman, a member of the Fresh Meadow, N.Y.-based group’s board, in a statement posted on their website last week.

“As we write this letter, a female soldier from that base who established a deep relationship with Bibi is flying to California to meet Bibi’s plane, to provide the love and support Bibi will need in the next few months. The presence of soldiers may not have stopped the horrendous abuse Bibi suffered, but that does not mean they should leave.”

For more information, contact stacy@grossmanburnfoundation.org or call  (818) 597-5211 or visit http://www.grossmanburnfoundation.org/aisha.htm

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Bibi Aisha, 18. Credit: Jodi Bieber-Institute for TIME/Aug. 9, 2010