NEW YORK – Daniel Wachira likes to play with trucks and sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider." From the right side, he looks like any other bubbly 4-year-old.
But Daniel was abandoned at birth and left on a trash heap in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was mauled by dogs and nearly killed. He is in the United States for surgery to replace the half of his face — jawbone, cheek, ear — that is missing.
"Three minutes later, it would have been in the jugular," said Larry Jones, who with his wife, Frances, founded the Christian relief organization Feed the Children in 1979. The couple serve as Daniel's legal guardians. "He would have been gone."
The Joneses, of Oklahoma City, will head to Houston for 11 hours of surgery — the first of several grueling operations Daniel will have over the next 10 years — on June 1. Plastic surgeon Dr. Sean Boutros and other doctors at Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital are donating their services, estimated at $1 million.
Because of the shape of his mouth, Daniel has trouble forming words. But he is fluent in English and Swahili, and, sitting on the carpet in the Joneses' midtown hotel, sang "Jesus Loves Me" in both languages.
His life so far is a Bible story — part Moses among the bullrushes, part Daniel in the lion's den.
And, like the Biblical Adam, he will lose a rib. But not to fashion a mate.
"They're going to take a rib out of his side and put it in his jaw so that his teeth will grow properly," Larry Jones said.
Doctors also plan to take some muscle from Daniel's shoulder to form a cheek. And in a few years, when his head is more nearly grown, they hope to make an ear out of another rib.
Frances Jones said Daniel is just starting to know he is different.
"He told me that his face was broken one day," she said. "I said, 'Oh, maybe somebody could fix your face.' And he said, 'I really want that.' He said, 'I'll be a big boy.'"
A good Samaritan rescued Daniel from the dogs and took him to the police. They took him to a hospital in Nairobi, where he spent eight months. He was brought to the Frances Jones Abandoned Baby Center, an orphanage run by Feed the Children in Nairobi, where he lived until flying to the United States with the Joneses two months ago.
His future is unknown. The Joneses travel frequently for Feed the Children, which provides food and other supplies to families in all 50 states and around the world, and they are in their 60s with two grown children.
"It's been a long time since we had a 4-year-old in our home," Frances Jones said.
They may seek a family to adopt Daniel. "We're taking it a step at a time," Larry Jones said.
Frances Jones said she spent a year and a half soliciting financial backing to make Daniel's surgery possible. Plane tickets were donated by the airlines, and other expenses will be borne by members of Houston megachurch Lakewood Church.
"How can you say no to this child when you see him?" she asked.