Girl, 5, with a bullet behind her eye

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The Independent Online
A five-year-old West African girl who has had a bullet lodged in her skull for over a year is to fly to Britain this week for treatment. Tenneh Cole was shot by rebels in her native Sierra Leone and the bullet has remained behind her right eye, causing a speech impediment, deafness and loss of vision.

Tenneh will be seen on Thursday by consultant surgeons at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. "We are treating this girl as a humanitarian gesture. The X-ray pictures showing the bullet in her head are absolutely startling. They clearly show what a very lucky escape she had," said Richard Drew, administration director of the local health care trust.

The campaign to get Tenneh treated in this country was taken up by British charity workers after they heard her remarkable story.

She was found cowering in a derelict farmhouse last year after her parents died in Sierra Leone's civil war. Malomoh Cole and his pregnant wife, who were fleeing from a rebel attack on their home town of Mariama, shared their food and gave Tenneh her name - which means "God will provide".

Days later, the three were caught in the crossfire of another rebel attack. "I saw Tenneh on the ground shouting, with blood oozing from her head," recalled Mr Cole. "She was unconscious for three hours." He surrendered to the rebels after Tenneh's condition worsened so that she could get treatment. But after being tortured, he fled again with her.

The couple then carried Tenneh 250 miles to Freetown, the capital, dodging rebel patrols and begging for food. It was there that Tenneh finally received medical attention, X-rays showing that the bullet, believed to come from an AK47, was close to her brain. The hospital felt it had insufficient expertise to operate on the child.

Luckily, Colonel Mark Cook and his wife Caroline, who are trying to establish an orphanage for Sierra Leone's young war victims, were made aware of Tenneh's condition. Col. Cook set up the international charity Hope and Homes for Children after serving in Bosnia. His wife said last night: "Tenneh is a symbol of the suffering of so many children."

Surgeons at the Norwich hospital volunteered to treat Tenneh without charge and Sabena, the Belgian airline, will fly her over with a male nurse. The hospital recently successfully treated two young casualties of the war in Bosnia. Geoffrey Cheney, a plastic surgeon, said: "We will do all we can. The injury she suffered is incompatible with life. If the bullet didn't kill her outright, you would have expected infection to have done so."