A British soldier who raised a whopping £140,000 for a Bosnian boy so he could have life-changing surgery has now said he feels a “tremendous sense of pride” as the lad has just turned 21-years-old.
Wayne Ingram, from Portland in Dorset, was on patrol in Bosnia when he came across four-year-old Stefan Savic who had a rare facial deformity.
It turned out that the little boy had been born with a facial cleft – a block of bone in the centre of his face – and it was crushing his skull and forcing his eyes to grow apart. It was getting to the point where he was struggling to see.
Saddened to see the poor boy suffering, the dad of four felt so moved by Stefan and his condition that he vowed he would find a way for him to get the life-changing surgery back in the UK.
Determined to help the boy, Wayne raised an incredible £140,000 for Stefan’s surgery costs and after five successful operations – the final one taking place in October 2016 – the boy has finally reached full recovery.
In January, the young man turned 21-years-old and is now living a happy and fulfilling life.
Currently working as a paramedic in Aberdeen whilst helping fly people with COVID-19 symptoms from the North Swa oil rigs to the mainland, Wayne told The Sun: “It’s incredible. I have managed to see this young boy grow into a man.
“Stefan is doing extremely well. He has left all education and works as a musician in a local band where he plays the accordion and piano. When he isn’t playing music, he works with his father in the family bar.
“His birthday was on January 19 and I was planning to go out to see them as a surprise visit not long afterwards but due to lockdowns and work restrictions, this did not materialise.
“I feel a tremendous sense of pride when I think about the journey we took together. He is truly inspirational. Nothing ever sets him back or has stopped him achieving what he wants.
“His life would have been short before people helped and his life has been saved.”
Wayne added: “I speak to Stefan and his family every month, especially through this recent period. They have been asking how my family is and we have been speaking to each other a couple of times a week and are still in contact.”
When he first met Stefan, he had been employed as a staff sergeant in the 9th/12th Royal Lancers and was on a stabilising mission in Bosnia. It was at this point he encountered the boy and his parents Milos and Slava.
They told him that Stefan had been born with a debilitating condition called Tessier facial cleft, which had meant that his eyes were 4.5cm further apart than is normal and because of this, he didn’t have a proper nose.
Wanting the little boy to have a normal life, Wayne felt he had to do something to change this. First of all, he raised £85,000 and brought Stefan to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2003.
The plastic surgeon, David Dunaway, had heard of the heartwarming story and had generously offered to provide his services for free. But still, Wayne had to tackle the costs of flights, visas and accommodation for the family.
Within a year of meeting Wayne, Stefan had undergone two operations at the Great Ormand Street Hospital.
The first operation took place in July 2003 and involved removing all of his teeth. This was then followed by a 12-hour operation in October that would require the surgeon to deconstruct and then reconstruct his skull.
During the surgery, Dr Dunaway had to remove the block of bone in the centre of his face and then he could move Stefan’s eyes closer together. Following this, he would build him a new nose.
In May 2005, the boy returned to the UK for a third operation which would correct his nasal airways.
Nine years later, Wayne raised a further £20,000 for an operation that would help the alignment of his face by sorting his teeth and improve his breathing.
For the final fundraising effort, Wayne managed to get the help of celebrities such as explorer Ed Stafford. Wayne then brought Stefan back to the UK for the final time and he then underwent an operation to shape his nose with cartilage from his ear.
Wayne said: “The whole thing has been a rollercoaster of emotions from when he first came to the UK.
“Stefan wants to pass on his sincere thanks for all of the support he received from the British public.
“He states it is amazing to think how they come to support a total stranger. He and his family also wanted to thank Professor Dunaway and Great Ormond Street Hospital for their support, love and kindness to allow it all to happen.
“They also say the British Army is really respected in Bosnia because of this fundraising effort, and everyone holds them in the highest regard.”