Friday, July 30, 2010

A second chance

MGHfC and MEEI help save Haitian child with eye cancer

A caring team: Front row, from left, Coleman; Widerson; and Chacilia Richalien, Widerson's aunt. Back row, from left, Mukai; Grabowski; and Edaniel Beauplant, MGH Haitian-Creole medical interpreter

The efforts of three doctors at three separate institutions came together to forever change the life of one little boy living in a remote village in Haiti. Thanks to the dedication of a doctor in Maine and treatments from caregivers at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), 3-year-old Widerson Mompremier has been given a second chance at life.

Widerson's journey began this past winter when his family brought him to a medical clinic in their village of Soufriere shortly after the January earthquake. Widerson had become blind in his right eye, and his family asked the medical staff for help. When Laurel Coleman, MD, a geriatric specialist at Maine Medical Center who was volunteering in Haiti at the time, saw the little boy, she immediately recognized that he needed advanced care. So she put him on her back and carried him five miles to the closest town to see an ophthalmologist, who confirmed her fear. Widerson had retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer, and needed treatment to survive.

Back in Maine, Coleman successfully lobbied to bring Widerson to the United States for care, despite his lack of a passport. Eric Grabowski, MD, DSci, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at MGHfC, and Shizuo Mukai, MD, a surgeon at MEEI, both specialists in retinoblastoma, became involved in Widerson’s treatment shortly after he arrived.

"When we first saw Widerson we were very concerned," says Grabowski. "There was a high risk that the tumor had metastasized. In many undeveloped countries, this disease is fatal."

Widerson first had surgery to remove his cancerous right eye and received a prosthetic replacement. He then underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. In August, under the care of Shannon MacDonald, MD, of MGH Radiation Oncology, he will start proton therapy to target the area where some tumor cells were found. With these treatments, the doctors are confident Widerson will go on to lead a full and healthy life.

"Widerson's a very special boy. He's brave, courageous and full of charm," says Grabowski. "He is doing very well with lots of support and love from his family and the social workers and staff at the MGH and Mass Eye and Ear."

After his treatment, Widerson will go back to Haiti to live with his family, but he will remain in the hearts of his team of U.S. caregivers. 

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