|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 89 - Monday January 29, 2007
|The Dream Team - (Nine New Yorkers unite to save a young man's life) |
Julian Kesner - NY Daily News
Saving a life is often too difficult to be left to just one person.
Fortunately for Khalid Lucien, there were nine amazing New Yorkers who joined forces to save his.
The 22-year-old man from the Caribbean island of Dominica had spent more than nine years suffering from a benign but aggressively growing tumor in his neck.
The tumor had swelled so much that swallowing food was nearly impossible.
"I was very afraid," says Lucien. "People were asking me what it was - I was wondering what this thing was! Every year, it would get bigger and bigger."
Lucien tried repeatedly to find a doctor in Dominica to remove the growth, called an ameloblastoma, but he had no luck.
He even traveled to the nearby island of Martinique to see a specialist, but soon discovered that he couldn't afford surgery there and no financial aid was available.
Lucien's luck changed in September 2005, when he met Dr. Steve Caddle, a pediatrician visiting Dominica with Dorcas Medical Missions, an arm of Brooklyn's Mullings Ministries.
"He came to the clinic we had set up at the end of the day," recalls Caddle, who works at both New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia and the Children's Hospital at Montefiore.
"[The tumor] took over a significant portion of his lower jaw," says the doctor. "It was amazing he could actually close his mouth, and a miracle that he could eat and sustain himself nutritionally, but he figured out over the years to do so.
"My initial reaction was, we don't have a surgical team. I knew what his problem was just by looking at him, and there was nothing we could offer there in his country."
Caddle photographed the tumor and exchanged contact information with ¬Lucien. A week after returning to the U.S., Caddle sent a memo to various doctors and foundations, asking them to help find an oral-maxillofacial surgeon - a specialist in problems of the face, mouth, teeth and jaw - who might help the young man.
Little came of it. But Caddle's new patient was persistent, as both of them knew they were racing against time.
"Every month or so, he'd contact me to see if I was getting anywhere, and I would push forward to see if anyone else could help," says Caddle. "I knew the tumor was getting bigger."
After a year, in September 2006, Caddle reached out to a former colleague of his from residency, Dr. Yadira Cardona-Rohena, now chief resident in oral surgery at Montefiore Medical Center. She spoke with Dr. Jairo Bastidas, Montefiore's deputy director of oral-maxillofacial surgery, and up the executive ladder it went.
"I heard back from Dr. Cardona in the first week of October," recalls Caddle. "She said, 'We have to get this guy here.'"
Even with doctors finally on board, paying for the costly surgery and postoperative care was another hurdle.
But Lucien's luck continued. Elaine Brennan, Montefiore's senior vice president of operations, agreed to take it on pro bono as a humanitarian case.
"We do a fair number of cases like this, and he seemed like someone we should make an extra effort to take care of," says Brennan. "He portrayed such a sad situation; he was only 22.
"I said, let's look into it and see what it will entail, and see if we can get some support to bring him here and care for him here before we would entertain doing the operation."
Alice Schenkel, a project manager for Brennan's office, led this effort after seeing a picture of Lucien and the massive tumor.
"Once I got that photograph, I carried it around until we had Elaine's support," recalls Schenkel. "Normally, I have to find funding for these cases before we will consent, even though he may have a doctor who's interested.
"But Elaine said, 'Let's do this, because if we don't, he'll probably die.'"
Part of the reason Brennan and Schenkel could help out was the generosity of Arlette Paul, a nurse practitioner in Montefiore's hematology unit who hosted Lucien at her home for seven weeks.
Paul has lived in the U.S. for 26 years, but she grew up on Dominica and knows its culture well.
"Alice told me about it and said she needed help with the housing," says Paul, who has a son of her own at home. "I thought about it and said, you know, I should be able to help."
On Nov. 2, 2006, Caddle picked up Lucien from the airport - the young man's first time in the United States - and drove him to Paul's home in the Bronx.
"He was a little bit shy," says Paul. "It just took time. I was moved by him - he traveled by himself, and he really was not well."
During his preop testing, Paul had her brother, son, niece and nephew take turns keeping Lucien company while she was at work, and she'd call home a few times a day to check in.
She also got help from Devika ¬Brijlall, a nurse practitioner at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore.
"I would pick him up and drive him to his appointments, and stay with him throughout the process," says Brijlall. "He didn't have a family member here, so we became his family, his friends and his support. The pre-testing procedures can be very emotional."
Finally, on Nov. 13, 2006, Lucien spent nearly eight hours in surgery at Montefiore to remove the tumor. Oral surgeon Dr. Mauricio Wiltz and oral-surgery resident Dr. Justin Ponquinette assisted Bastidas and Cardona-Rohena in the OR.
"This is by far the biggest I've taken out," says Bastidas, who removes four or five such tumors each year. "In Third World countries, you have this lump growing in someone's jaw but nobody wants to touch it, so it just gets bigger and bigger."
Working through a large incision beneath Lucien's ear and jawbone, the team lifted the skin and vital structures off the tumor and removed it intact.
The growth was found to be more than 4 inches long and weighed about two-thirds of a pound.
"We actually thought it was going to be more difficult than what it was," says Cardona-Rohena. "He did very well."
Afterward, the patient couldn't believe the way he looked.
"I was stunned, I was speechless," says Lucien. "I couldn't stop looking in the mirror."
After several weeks of postoperative monitoring, Lucien flew back home on Dec. 17. Paul is planning a trip to her native island in March, and expects to spend time with Lucien while she's there.
Lucien will return in April to begin planning reconstructive surgery: Bastidas and Cardona-Rohena will remove bone from his hip or leg to build him a new jaw, and new teeth will follow.
Until then, he is simply thrilled to be rid of the massive lump and the many questions that came with it. He's hoping to start dating some of Dominica's lovely ladies, and wants to pursue an MBA degree.
"I'm very appreciative of all these people," he says. "[Paul] made me part of her family and took me into her home. And Dr. Caddle, I don't know what to say about him, he's so great.
"It's the first time I've ever felt this good in my life."
Originally published on January 24, 2007