CINCINNATI (AP) — A woman from India maimed by an acid attack as a 13-year-old has found both medical treatment and a new family in Ohio.
The 2011 crime in Prerna Gandhi’s hometown of Rohtak in the Indian state of Haryana left severe burns over 40 percent of her body, including the right side of her face.
Gandhi, 18, eventually was accepted for treatment at Cincinnati’s Shriners Hospital for Children, a facility whose specialties include helping burn victims.
During Gandhi’s stay with a host family, she met a down-the-street neighbor, Graci Doll, a teen who became her friend and later persuaded Mount Notre Dame High School to allow Gandhi to audit classes.
When Gandhi’s host family moved out of state, Doll insisted she live with her and her parents, Scott and Melissa Doll, who took Gandhi in to allow her to continue her treatments in Cincinnati.
“She’s a gift,” Scott Doll told the Cincinnati Enquirer (http://cin.ci/1XEKfem). “We look at her as a blessing. We have learned things about the world that we could never have known without her. And we laugh at the same things.”
Acid attacks are common in India, often aimed at women when men feel jilted or to settle family disputes. Sulfuric acid is easily purchased despite bans.
The day of the attack, Gandhi had persuaded a friend to let her drive her friend’s scooter home from a tutoring class with her on the back. As they were stopped in traffic, two older boys approached on a motorcycle and the acid was thrown.
The crime mystified authorities and Gandhi’s family until eventually police learned Gandhi’s friend — who was supposed to be driving the scooter — was the intended target. Two men were sentenced to life in prison; a female relative of Gandhi’s friend who hired them was sentenced to a year behind bars.
In India, Gandhi underwent more than two dozen skin graft surgeries. At the hospital in Cincinnati, she has gone through several additional procedures, including surgeries to reduce rigid neck scarring, construction of a new eyebrow and laser treatment to smooth burn scars.
“She has matured a lot just in the short time I’ve known her,” said pediatric plastic surgeon Ann Schwentker. “She’s older than her years. She seems very quiet, but she really has quite a voice. She has the potential to make quite a big difference in the world.”
Graci Doll, also 18, said meeting Gandhi has changed her perspective on life.
“Before I met her, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on in the world. I didn’t know about the hardship,” Doll said. “She has opened my eyes. Now I want to do something to help the world.”
Gandhi returned to India last summer to see her family for the first time in two years. She returned to the U.S. in December on a student visa and began taking classes at the University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash campus last month.
“This attack has made me into the woman I am today, a strong, independent young woman who wants to make a difference,” she said at an August fundraiser for her tuition organized by Dr. Anisha Singh, a Cincinnati internist who has made acid attacks a personal cause.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com