4 LB Tumor Choking Woman
Haitian woman brought to U.S. for medical rescue
By ANNE GEGGIS , Staff writer
March 22, 2010 12:05 AM
Dr. Vishtasb Broumand, left, and Dr. John Akers go over tumor surgery with Lorette Pierre, center, as Judy Foster, right, translates during a recent visit to Florida Oral & Facial Surgical Associates. N-J | David Tucker
Lorette Pierre of Haiti is scheduled for surgery today at Halifax Health Medical Center to remove a tumor that has restricted her ability to breathe and eat. N-J | David Tucker
A model of the tumor afflicting Lorette Pierre. N-J | David Tucker
DAYTONA BEACH -- Haiti's deadliest earthquake has given Lorette Pierre not only her best chance to smile again -- but also to live.
This morning, the mother of six is scheduled to be wheeled into a Halifax Health Medical Center operating room so surgeons can remove a 4-pound tumor threatening to block her airway. This surgery, expected to last 12 hours, would not have happened if not for a chance encounter with a team of Daytona Beach surgeons who were on an earthquake-relief trip in Port-au-Prince. Brought to Florida late last month to prepare for the surgery, Pierre, 37, has mastered some English: "My name is Lorette," she said. "I need help."
Her unlikely journey -- and rare international medical mission at Halifax -- became a possibility because Dr. Vishtasb Broumand was wearing a T-shirt that bore the name of his practice as he prepared to board a flight home from Port-au-Prince with seven other area physicians.
Drawn by the logo for "Florida Oral & Facial Surgical Associates," another doctor approached Broumand just before boarding his own flight home to Texas. This doctor had been on Pierre's medical team trying to get her help. Days before, surgery on her had been aborted because of excessive bleeding as surgeons cut into the tumor.
"He pulled out her picture (on his cell phone) and said, 'Is there anything you can do with this?' " Broumand recalled.
The sight of the benign tumor that has stretched Pierre's bottom lip to twice its normal size was shocking, but not much more than similar cases Broumand had worked on during his fellowship training at the University of Miami. The opportunity to make a life-saving difference immediately appealed to Broumand and also to Dr. John Akers, another surgeon with the practice, who was also along for the relief trip.
Left alone, the benign tumor, which has been growing for four years, "would eventually suffocate her," Akers said.
Pierre started looking for help about a year ago.
Right now, she has 6 millimeters left to breath through and eat -- about 80 percent blocked, said Dr. Curtis Schalit, another oral surgeon with Florida Oral & Facial Surgical Associates who will be helping in today'ss> operation.
Uninterrupted tooth buds are the likely cause of the tumor that wouldn't have grown to this point if Pierre had been able to get any sort of dental care, doctors say. Regardless, making sure she doesn't die from it has galvanized an array of medical professionals, hospital administrators and medical-equipment companies that are willing to chip in to cover the costs.
Dr. Akers estimates the cost of treating Pierre -- including reconstruction of her jaw -- will likely reach into the hundreds of thousands, possibly even $1 million.
Pierre, who has spent most of her life in a remote Haitian village, existing on the money she gets from growing vegetables, said through an interpreter that the prospect of her growing tumor scared her. But she never wavered from her faith, according to Judy Foster, who is interpreting what Pierre needs to hear into her native Creole.
"They are very spiritual people," said Foster of Pierre and her husband.
Foster said Pierre has faced down her medical problems much as she faced the earthquake's devastation that struck while she was in Port-Au-Prince -- trying to get her visa to the Dominican Republic for the first surgery that was eventually aborted.
"Haitian's have a saying, 'Bondye vle,' -- if God wills it," Foster said.
So far, that has gotten Pierre through a mountain of U.S. Customs' paperwork and other incredible odds, Foster said.
"There are very few doctors in the United States that do the surgery," she said. "Then, there's the astronomical cost of hospitalization and all the other details.
"I knew it could be done," said Foster, who oversees a children's medical clinic and a home for children with disabilities, Harvest House Haiti in Les Cayes. "I just didn't know where or how."
But Pierre has another view she shared through Foster: "I thought it was easy because of God."
Foster said she agrees. The earthquake's toll has also added up to ordinary people deciding to do extraordinary things, she said.
"It's a miracle."
Pierre's doctors say they are looking forward to sharing a takeout box of her new favorite food -- pizza -- with her once she recovers from today's surgery.