The holidays are about giving, and what better gift to receive than life itself? A 16-year-old Haitian boy, Roosevelt Gateau, recently found out for himself when doctors at The University of Arizona Medical Center – University Campus performed open-heart surgery to save his life.
Roosevelt’s travels from Grand Goave, Haiti to Tucson began with a phone call from Bhavesh Patel, MD, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, to Michael Teodori, MD, clinical professor of surgery and director of Congenital and Pediatric Cardiac Surgery at the UA Department of Surgery.
Dr. Patel asked if Dr. Teodori was willing to donate his skills to help save the life of a very sick boy from Haiti. Roosevelt’s heart was badly damaged by a bout of rheumatic fever, resulting in rheumatic heart disease attacking his mitral valve – now very rare in the U.S. because of accessibility to antibiotics. Dr. Patel had met Roosevelt when he traveled to Haiti on a medical mission, and recognized his critical medical condition of mitral stenosis and tricuspid regurgitation.
When he returned to Arizona, Dr. Patel called Dr. Teodori in hopes that he could care for Roosevelt under the auspices of Gift of Life – Arizona, a non-profit organization that provides open-heart surgery to needy children worldwide.
“First we had to have buy-in from everyone involved,” explained Dr. Teodori. “Everybody was donating his time, we had support from the hospital administration, and we were even able to get the heart valve donated (by On-X Life Technologies Inc.) and the repair ring donated (by Edwards Lifesciences Corp.”
With the logistics in place, Roosevelt came to Tucson with his mother, Marie Flada Blanc, to have surgery on Dec. 11 at UAMC. He was accompanied by Gift of Life – Arizona Executive Director, Gina Guglielmo.
Dr. Teodori performed a tricuspid repair and mechanical mitral valve replacement on Roosevelt to allow blood flow into his left ventricle, and to keep blood from leaking back into the left atrium and thereby back into the lung. Mitral valve replacement is an open-heart surgical procedure and requires placing the patient on cardiopulmonary bypass.
A few days after his surgery, Roosevelt was discharged to the care of his host family – his pediatric cardiologist at UAMC, Brent Barber, MD. Dr. Barber, his wife Bridget and their three children are hosting Roosevelt and Marie Flada during their month-long stay in Tucson. Dr. Barber is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Section of Cardiology.
“They could easily stay elsewhere, but at least I can help interpret for them,” said Bridget Barber, who was able to help communicate in French with the Haitian-Creole speaking family.
Roosevelt is recovering well. “It’s just nice to see that sparkle in Roosevelt’s eyes. He looks so much better now,” said Dr. Teodori.
And Roosevelt may one day be a part of the UAMC team. He’s picked up some English while staying with the Barber family and even aspires to one day be a doctor. Although Tucson is a bit too cold for him and too dark in the mornings, he said, he still hopes to return to the U.S. in the future.
He is scheduled to return to Phoenix on Dec. 27, where he will be hosted by Christine Gale, a sonographer from The University of Arizona Health Network, until he departs for Haiti on Jan. 5.
The University of Arizona Medical Center – University Campus
Formerly known as University Medical Center, the 487-bed hospital at 1501 N. Campbell Ave. in Tucson is part of The University of Arizona Health Network, the state’s leading academic medical system. It is the primary teaching hospital of the UA Colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy and Nursing. Its mission is Advancing Health and Wellness through Education, Research and Patient Care.