Randolph group helps
Haitian man in Boston
Bone will be taken from leg
By KAREN ESCHBACHER
t took Dieuphel Azulphar two days to walk from his remote Haitian village to the nearest hospital.
As he trudged along the dirt roads that slice through the back country, he harbored a simple hope: that doctors could do something about the tumor that has disfigured his face.
“I thought they could give me some cream and medicine to put on it to make it better,” the 20-year-old said.
He would have to travel much farther for help than he expected.
Azulphar is now in Boston undergoing what could prove to be a life-saving surgery, thanks to two South Shore organizations.
During a 12-hour operation today, surgeons at New England Medical Center planned to cut out Azulphar’s lower jaw, two-thirds of which has been devoured by the tumor. A bone will be removed from his leg and fashioned into a new jaw.
The tumor is benign, but doctors say that if left alone, it would creep across his throat until he couldn’t breathe; eventually it would strangle him.
The surgery was arranged by the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, a Randolph organization that provides humanitarian aid in Haiti and built the hospital where Azulphar sought help.
A team of doctors will perform the surgery for free. The Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation, run by the chairman of United Liquors of Braintree, will pay about $50,000 in hospital expenses.
One of six children, Azulphar lives in the coastal village of Cote-de-Fer in southern Haiti. His father cultivates gardens for a living. Like many others in Haiti’s back country, the family lives in a two-room mud hut.
Azulphar, whose first name literally means “made by God,” first noticed the lump in his mouth when he was 16 years old. First his gums swelled, then a few teeth fell out.
By the time he made his first of several journeys to St. Boniface Hospital in 2003, the tumor had grown so large that it looked like someone stuffed a tennis ball beneath his lip.
Kathleen Perkins, a Milton dentist, met Azulphar when she traveled to Haiti with the St. Boniface foundation last June.
“He had walked for two days to come and he had this enormous tumor on his jaw, unlike anything I had seen in my entire life,” she said. “I felt like he thought I could solve his problems because I was an American dentist.
She couldn’t, at least not then. But Perkins decided to try, and she helped find doctors in Boston willing to perform the surgery.
“It just is so unfair that he has to live like that down there, that where you happen to be born determines that you’re going to die from a huge tumor,” Perkins said. “Why does his life mean less than someone else’s here?
Two weeks ago, after a year of preparation and paperwork and prayer, Azulphar finally arrived in Boston.
Maria Papageorge, chairwoman of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, said the procedure is complicated, but she expects a full recovery.
After cutting away his lower jaw, Papageorge and other doctors planned to remove the fibula bone from one of Azulphar’s legs -- and bend it into a new jaw. Blood vessels from the leg would be taken with it and attached to vessels in the neck.
Papageorge said the body can adjust without the fibula, and Azulphar should walk again just fine.
Cosmetically, his face will still be slightly disfigured, but “the appearance will be better than it is now,” she said. He will lose his bottom teeth, though implants are a possibility down the line.
Azulphar is expected to remain in the hospital for about a week.
If he was scared before the surgery, he did not show it.
On Tuesday morning, Azulphar sat in the Randolph home of Nannette Canniff, the executive director of the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation.
Canniff translated from Creole as Azulphar, a tall and lanky man with close-cropped hair, explained that the surgery will change his life.
He is not in pain now, and the tumor does not affect his ability to eat or talk. Still, he looks forward to the day when his skin is smooth, or “suave.”
Azulphar will likely remain in the United States for six months.
While here he will live with Rita Russo, a St. Boniface employee who has spent the last several days shuttling him to doctor’s appointments and introducing him to a country so different from his own.
To Russo, the decision to take Azulphar in and help him through the operation was simple.
“Imagine yourself having that tumor,” she said. “There’s your answer. It says it all.”
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at email@example.com
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