This brought tears to my eyes for obvious reasons. My operation, which I still do not know the outcome of; but what I do know is, removing the large node, has made my jaw hurt about 90% less.
With huge tumor gone, Haitian man faces life with new hope
By Chris Togneri
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Tassy Fils-aime walked into the Quigley Catholic High School gym in Baden to watch a basketball game with some new friends Friday.
A group of students sought him out, having heard the stories. They stared at his neck, searching for signs of disfigurement, but found none. Instead, they asked where the giant tumor had grown.
"Oh, that made me feel so good!" Fils-aime, 19, said Monday in Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side. "I gave them the thumbs up."
It was a new feeling for Fils-aime -- one of normalcy -- that he never dreamed of just a year ago.
Fils-aime comes from one of the poorest ghettos on earth, in the Cite Soleil section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For eight years, a benign tumor on the left side of his face grew to the size of a baseball, weakening his jaw and making it difficult to swallow, breathe and speak.
Last year, a Haitian doctor agreed to operate. But the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 destroyed the hospital where the surgery was to take place. The doctor was never found in the rubble, and Fils-aime expected to live the rest of his life with the tumor, he said.
A chance meeting with Ian Rosenberger, 29, of Shadyside -- who in 2005 was a contestant on the reality-television show "Survivor: Palau" -- changed everything.
Immediately after the earthquake, Rosenberger flew to the Dominican Republic and bused into Haiti. A photography enthusiast, he wanted to document the desperate conditions, bring his images back to Pittsburgh and use them for fundraising efforts.
Outside a barbershop in Port-au-Prince, Fils-aime approached Rosenberger. He showed him the tumor and asked, "Can you help me?"
"I knew right away that's what I was going to do," Rosenberger said. "When someone asks you directly, 'Can you help me?' -- How could you not do everything you can?"
Over the next several months, Rosenberger and a group of friends raised money to pay for Fils-aime to travel to Pittsburgh. He met surgeons from Allegheny General who agreed to operate pro bono. Rosenberger secured a visa, and in November flew Fils-aime out of Haiti to Pittsburgh.
The nine-hour operation -- led by otolaryngologist James Blaugrund and plastic surgeon Michael White -- was Nov. 15. Today, a barely visible scar on his neck is the only evidence of the once-huge tumor.
"Big, big difference," Fils-aime said, flashing a smile as he met with the doctors at Allegheny General for the last time before he flies home Thursday. "I am so happy."
Rosenberger will return to Haiti soon. He started a nonprofit called Team Tassy, and wants to find another Haitian to help.
"From the moment we found him, this has been pretty much the coolest experience of my life," Rosenberger said.
Fils-aime will return to Pittsburgh in the summer for dental implant surgery. Long term, he hopes to study one day at Penn State University.
For now, though, he wants to see his family again -- finally, with an unblemished face.
"I miss my mom," he said. "I am ready to see them."