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When baby Joel was born, his mother Loralie immediately knew something was wrong. Joel had been born with an abnormal growth on his face called an encephalocele, which threatened to end Joel’s life.

Treatment of an encephalocele requires a complicated and potentially dangerous surgery to remove the growth and reconstruct the face.  This surgery could not be done safely in the Belizean hospital. The medical resources and expertise simply were not available. But the defect continued to grow rapidly, placing Joel’s life at risk.  You could sense the fear she had that her baby would die if she could not find help for him.

Joel and his mother were living in a 12 ft x 12 ft room with his aunt and 4 year old cousin.  All they had were two small beds and a small stove.  They bathed outside using an outhouse for their toilet.  Loralie earned 25 dollars a week washing her sister’s and neighbors’ clothes.

In November, James Pitre, the founder of Compassionate Hearts Alliance, was introduced to baby Joel and his mother while he was on a trip to Belize. James and his wife Lorrie are committed to assisting children with extreme medical conditions.

VCU Medical Center teamJames contacted thirteen university and children's hospitals before reaching out to the International Hospital for Children (IHC).  This nonprofit organization based in Richmond, Virginia links pediatric surgical care to developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. IHC then contacted VCU Medical Center and its Center for Craniofacial Care. 

Pediatric craniofacial surgeon Dr. Jennifer Rhodes and pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Tye rapidly developed a treatment plan for baby Joel and agreed to donate their time to provide him with the care he needed.  VCU Medical Center generously agreed to cover the cost of Joel’s hospital stay.  Since 2001, IHC and VCU medical center have worked together to provide over 150 children with complex medical conditions with free hospital care otherwise unavailable in their home countries.

Joel and his mother arrived in Richmond on October 28, 2009, five days after IHC was initially presented with his case.  Joel’s surgery took place one week later.

Donating their services, Drs. Rhodes and Tye kept a close watch over Joel during his recovery from the lengthy and complicated surgery.  After 4 weeks, Joel was ready to return to his home in Belize.

Joel and his motherJoel’s mother summed up their experience saying “It seemed impossible. But now, Joel will grow up and have a future. Forever, we are grateful to you both and your entire staff at the VCU Medical Center.”

For more information:

International Hospital for Children

Compassionate Hearts Alliance