Survivor Of The Rwandan Genocide Receives Plastic Surgery At Ellis

Aug 6, 2018

A survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide was recently in Schenectady for what he describes as life-changing surgery.

Yannick Kabuguza was 4 years old when his village was attacked. Extremists entered his family's home, killing everyone, leaving Yannick for dead.  He flew into New York two weeks ago for surgery at Ellis’ McClellan Street Health Center.

Maimed by a machete in the attack, Kabuguza grew up to be an aspiring filmmaker. But the scar that ran across his face and deformed his ear made him stand out as a genocide survivor, something his fellow Rwandans would rather not be reminded of.

Yannick was working on a TV crew when he was introduced to former firefighter Bill Lavin, whose "Where Angels Play Foundation" traveled to Rwanda to build a playground in 2001: "It started with the 'Angels From Sandy Hook Elementary School,' so we built playground for them. One of those surviving brothers was not going to school, was very frustrated with life. He was counseled by a Rwandan genocide survivor, so that led us to the idea of partnering with kids around the world and to build a playground in Rwanda. When we got there, we met up with their film crew, led by Dr. Jim Creighton, and one of the individuals was Yannick Kabuguza. And Yannick won our hearts. He was such a friendly, affable guy, but wanted to tell his story to us..."

After hearing Yannick's story, fundraising began to cover his travel costs to the U.S. Dr. Patricia Fox eventually treated Yannick in Schenectady: "And it was my pleasure last Monday, to provide some surgery for him that basically takes and lessens the stigma of his injuries and his wounds. I just took his stitches out this morning, and he's looking very well."

Grateful for the gratis medical care, Yannick wants to spread awareness that there are caring and compassionate people ready to help others.  "You know like how my surgery, being done for free of charge, it's like you know, unbelievable to me. That's incredible. You know what I'm saying."

Yannick says he forgives his attackers and plans to continue working with Lavin and the foundation. Fox says she'll stay in touch with him.