A soldier who spotted a boy with a terrible deformity while on patrol in Bosnia has spent ten years fundraising to finally deliver his promise of giving him a new face.
Former Staff Sergeant Wayne Ingram, 44, met four-year-old Stefan Savic a decade ago while on peacekeeping duties in Eastern Europe.
Stefan was born with a debilitating condition called Tessier facial cleft, which meant his eyes were 4.5cm further apart than normal and he had no proper nose.
But father-of-two Mr Ingram, formerly of the 9th/12th Royal Lancers, was so moved by Stefan’s plight he vowed to get him state-of-the-art medical help.
He collected an amazing £85,000 with a fundraising drive across Bosnia and the UK before bringing Stefan to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2003.
The youngster underwent 12 hours of surgery with plastic surgeon David Dunaway, who cut his face in half before moving his eyes closer together and building him a nose.
The operation was a success but Mr Dunaway warned that a second operation would be needed a decade later.
Mr Ingram kept in touch with Stefan and his parents Slavenka, 36, and Milos, 44, raising a further £20,000 to bring him back to the UK to finish his treatment.
Stefan, now 14, returned to Great Ormond Street this week for his second operation with Mr Dunaway to improve his face and help his breathing.
Mr Ingram, from Weymouth, Dorset, said he was just happy to complete the remarkable job of helping Stefan lead the life of a normal little boy.
He said: ‘I was on a routine patrol in Bosnia when I was introduced to his father and went to meet Stefan.
‘The condition had been left untreated and had grown between Stefan’s eyes, crushing his skull, forcing his eyes apart to the point he couldn’t see what was ahead of him.
‘But aside from the facial deformities he was just a normal, playful little boy. He was confident and cheeky, climbing all over me as we played football in the yard.
‘He was too young then to be self-aware. But his facial cleft was blocking his airways and without medical attention, could kill him.
‘I had two young sons myself at the time and there was no way I could stand back and do nothing. I knew in an instant I had to do everything I could to help.’
As Mr Ingram set about raising funds, he wrote to a long list of celebrities.
Only David Beckham replied, politely explaining he had already chosen his charities for that year.
Mr Dunaway, the surgeon, was offering his services for free but Mr Ingram still needed to pay for flights, accommodation for the family, as well as essential hospital costs.
He raised 6,000 Euros by staging a charity football match in Banja Luka, with Muslim, Serb and Croat players setting aside their conflicts to help Stefan.
And back in the UK, Mr Ingram launched a massive fundraising drive, persuading his local Asda to put collection boxes beside their tills.
He said: ‘Donations poured in and I was bowled over by the generosity.
‘Stefan needed three operations back then – one to remove his teeth, another to reconstruct his nose and another to reconstruct his skull.
Stefan will likely need a further operation on his nose and orthodontics to realign his teeth before one final surgery to correct the roof of his mouth.
Mr Ingram, who was so inspired by Stefan’s medical progress he became a paramedic after leaving the army, says he’ll be there every step of the way.
Mr Ingram, whose own sons Harry and Toby are now 18 and 16, added: ‘Stefan has never moaned or complained the whole time I’ve known him.
‘His mum says that after his latest operation he looked in front of the mirror and said: “this is the best thing that has ever happened to me”.
‘For me this was about honouring a promise I made all those years ago and doing everything I could for Stefan.
‘He’s changed my life as well and inspired me to become a paramedic. We’ll always have an inseparable bond.’
Mr Ingram’s fundraising efforts have been supported by the Facing the World charity, which provides life-changing surgery to children from developing countries with severe facial disfigurements.
To make a donation visit facingtheworld.net