Acid attack survivor whose face was left disfigured gets reconstructive surgery in California

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Atsede Niguse had battery acid thrown at her by her estranged husband, whom she was seeking a divorce from, in Ethiopia in July 2017.  Pictured: Niguse before the attack


The survivor of a brutal attack is finally on the road to recovery and undergoing reconstructive surgery in California.

Atsede Niguse was at her mother’s house in the village of Adigrat, in northern Ethiopia, while she sought a divorce from her estranged husband.

One night, in July 2017, he crept out from behind a bush and threw battery acid in Niguse’s face while she stood at the door, disfiguring her and blinding her.

After hearing the story, Menbere Aklilu, who lives in the Bay Area, helped Niguse obtain a humanitarian visa and escorted her to the US to seek treatment.

Niguse is being helped by several organizations pro bono including Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and Face Forward as they help reconstruct her nose, mouth and eyes, and hopefully help her regain some sight.

She hopes her story can inspire other women to speak out about their own domestic abuse and leave before it’s too late. 

The mother-of-one was badly burned, losing her nose and one ear, and was left blinded by the attack. PIctured: Niguse after the attac

Atsede Niguse had battery acid thrown at her by her estranged husband, whom she was seeking a divorce from, in Ethiopia in July 2017. The mother-of-one was badly burned, losing her nose and one ear, and was left blinded by the attack. Pictured: Niguse before the attack, left, and after the attack, right

In October 2018, California resident Menbere Aklilu obtained a visa to go to Ethiopia and being Niguse to the US for treatment. Pictured: Niguse with her son before the attack

In October 2018, California resident Menbere Aklilu obtained a visa to go to Ethiopia and being Niguse to the US for treatment. Pictured: Niguse with her son before the attack

In Ethiopia, Niguse was studying biology at Hawassa University and hoped to become a teacher while running a cosmetic business on the side.

Her husband, a police officer, forced her to marry him and would hit her every night for nearly six years.

‘He was beating her, while she was pregnant and in front of her son,’ Aklilu, whom Niguse lives with, told DailyMail.com.    

After one particularly brutal beating in which her teeth were knocked out, she demanded a divorce and took their son, Honeybun, with her.

Between six and eight months later, he hid behind a bush and waited her to arrive back at her mother’s house. While she on the doorstep, he attacked her with acid.

‘He told her: “This acid is nothing; I want to kill you,”‘ Aklilu said.

Niguse lost most of her nose and one of her ears. Because she was hit directly in the face, she was left blinded by the attack. Her husband has yet to be charged. 

‘He took away my face and my identity,’ Niguse said.

Aklilu heard about her story on Facebook.

She related to the young woman because she is a survivor of domestic abuse herself back in her native Ethiopia, where she was an actress.

She is finally undergoing reconstructive surgery at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and by Face Forward, a nonprofit organization. Pictured: Niguse after the attac

She is finally undergoing reconstructive surgery at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and by Face Forward, a nonprofit organization. Pictured: Niguse after the attac

She says her husband used to burn her face with a cigarette and tried to kill her several times until she eventually ran away while she was nine months pregnant. 

Aklilu gave birth in a woman’s shelter in Rome, where the couple had moved.

‘So when I saw her story, I thought I can give a hand to this person,’ she said.

‘Her son is so cute, and I see my son in him, so I want to help her.’  

Aklilu had an Ethiopian journalist contact Niguse and, after three failed attempts, she obtained a visa in October 2018 and flew to Ethiopia to meet Niguse, who was living in a shelter, and bring her to her home in Richmond, California. 

‘She’s very, very strong. I’ve never seen anyone as strong as her. I never see her moaning or complaining,’ Aklilu said. 

Right after the attack, Niguse was treated in her village before seeking care in Bangkok, Thailand, at Vejthani Hospital.

However, she didn’t have much money and, once she could no longer pay, the hospital told her there was nothing else they could do.   

Eventually, she received a humanitarian visa to undergo reconstructive surgeries in the US and left her son to stay with her mother and sister.

She received her first surgery at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco on May 2019, and doctors say a future corneal graft may help her regain her sight.

She’s also being helped by Face Forward, a non-profit that performs reconstructive facial work for severe cases.

Niguse had her first of several nasal reconstruction surgeries on Friday and it will be a process that takes about a year and a half to complete.

Doctors hope to help Niguse regain some sight and she hopes to use her story to raise awareness of domestic violence against women. Pictured: Niguse with her son before the attack

Doctors hope to help Niguse regain some sight and she hopes to use her story to raise awareness of domestic violence against women. Pictured: Niguse with her son before the attack

‘Aklilu told me that [Niguse] said after her first surgery: “Oh I’ve had worse pain then this, this isn’t pain,”‘ Mandi Budd, executive director at Face Forward, told DailyMail.com.

‘And I thought: “Wow, what spirit she has!”‘

Niguse has been giving speeches about her story, including one for International Women’s Day in Los Angeles, and hopes to get her son a visa to come to the US.  

‘She wants to be independent, help others,’ Aklilu said.  

‘She’ll never give up. She has a dream to be someone to finish her school and be an example to other women.’

Aklilu says she hopes other women feel comfortable disclosing that they are experiencing domestic abuse.

‘People, they must learn from her story and my story, it’s okay to tell other people what happened to you,’ she said.

‘In our country, in Ethiopia, domestic abuse is a secret, child abuse is a secret. It’s okay to tell your story. You can save another person, your children and grandchildren.’ 



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