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Enraged hippo bites off man's face, nose

April 12 2002

By Liz Clarke

In an emergency air dash from Durban on Friday a 35-year-old Zululand man was airlifted to Ngwelezane Hospital in Empangeni after an enraged hippo virtually bit off his face, leaving him without a nose, one eye and massive internal injuries.

Doctors at Manguzi Hospital in the rural area of northern Zululand, where the "appallingly" injured man was first taken, managed to stabilise the victim until the air mercy services arrived.

He was later transferred to the ICU at King Edward VIII Hospital for further long-term treatment, which will include extensive reconstructive surgery.

Fumukwiyo Mbonambi was walking home along a dirt road in the Black Rock area, one hour south of Kosi Bay, on Thursday night when he accidentally stumbled into a hippo in the darkness. The animal lunged at him, biting his face with such force that it removed most of his features including his nose, right eye and much of the flesh.

With blood pumping from massive wounds he somehow managed to escape the jaws of the hippo, crawl along the road and then stand long enough to flag down the first vehicle that came along.

"How he survived the attack, let alone the hour's journey to the hospital, is incredible," said Manguzi Hospital resident doctor Mark Blaylock. "He must be remarkably fit because it was adrenaline alone that got him through.

"The people who picked him up must have got the fright of their lives to see this blood-soaked man in their headlights. Thank goodness they kept their heads and brought him here as quickly as they did."

Hospital staff, who dubbed him "The Miracle Man", were astounded when the victim tried to tell them that his arm hurt, not realising that most of his face was missing.

"We could hear the word 'hippo' but then we told him not to talk as it was endangering his life," said Blaylock, who inserted an endotracheal tube to "maintain" the man's airway.

"We realised that his ribs were also crushed and that air was escaping from his lungs, resulting in a life-threatening bilateral pneumothorax (air trapped between wall of thorax and lungs causing the lungs to collapse)."

Doctors and staff fought through the night to save him. But without an intensive care unit and specialist treatment it was vital that the patient be transferred to a hospital that could deal with this type of injury.

A telephone fault in Manguzi meant that the first alert could only go out to the KwaZulu Natal provincial emergency medical rescue services (EMRS) early on Friday morning.

Lynette Thomas of the South African Red Cross Air Mercy Service, which operates in association with the KZN department of health, co-ordinated the air transfer in a pressurised single-engined Pilatus PC12 with two paramedics and a doctor in attendance. - Independent News Network

2002. All rights strictly reserved.

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