When baby Lubenson arrived at the Hope for Haiti Children’s Center school and orphanage in Ouanaminthe, Haiti,in the spring of 2006, the missionaries knew at a glance that he would need far more than the tiny island republic’s medical community could offer.
Eight-month-old Lubenson’s face was disfigured by an enormous tumor in his mouth that threatened his survival. “I watched helplessly as he struggled to breathe and ate with difficulty,” recalls Danita Estrella, Director of Haiti Children’s Center. “Lubenson and I spent a week together bonding while I prayed for a miracle. It was critical that he get to the U.S. as soon as possible. His tumor was growing daily and was beginning to press into his eye.”
Estrella got her miracle. She tapped friends, partners and fellow missionaries, finally succeeding in circumventing the usually time-consuming medical visa process. Within a week, Lubenson and Estrella were on their way to the United States. First stop, Miami, where they would obtain a biopsy of the mass on Lubenson’s face before seeking medical treatment at a U.S. hospital. “I was concerned about leaving my children and ministry in Ouanaminthe,” recalls Estrella. “But I was reminded of the good shepherd who left the 99 sheep to save the one. Lubenson was the one,” she said.
The biopsy at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, formerly Miami Children's Hospital, revealed that Lubenson was suffering from melanotic neuroectodermal tumor of infancy, a rare but life-threatening disorder. In short, he needed surgery right away. That’s when Dr. Anthony Wolfe, Director of Plastic Surgery at Nicklaus Children's, entered the story, offering to donate his services. In a three-hour surgery, Dr. Wolfe removed the tumor and reconstructed Lubenson’s face using muscle tissue from the child’s temple to fill in the hole left in his mouth. “I did not know at first that Dr. Wolfe was a world-renowned specialist in facial reconstruction for children,” recalls Estrella. “We feel so lucky. He was so wonderful and compassionate.” Dr. Wolfe develops innovative procedures to help children with severe facial anomalies and lectures internationally on the subject. His amazing work, and that of the Nicklaus Children's Hospital, formerly Miami Children's Hospital, Craniofacial Center team, has also been featured on the TLC Television Network.
Today, Lubenson is back home in Haiti. “Several doctors (in Haiti) told me that Lubenson would never make it, but faith, love, perseverance and compassion rewrote his story,” said Estrella. “Every time I see him smile, I am filled with gratitude.”