Living for half a year without his birth parents, 2-year-old Joel Delarosa is finally getting the surgery that will make him appear normal again and hopefully allow him to go home soon.
Joel was first brought to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic by Healing the Children New Jersey to be treated for a disfigurating lesion on the left side of his face in August of 2012. After visiting multiple medical centers throughout the Northeast to try to find a diagnosis, he was diagnosed with a lymphatic malformation. And after several centers determined they could not treat him, Steven and Shannon Tuorto (his host parents in the U.S.) finally found Dr. Alejandro Berenstein — an interventional neuroradiologist and director of the Center for Endovascular Surgery at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. He pioneered the treatment for lymphatic malformations about 30 years ago, and will perform the surgery pro bono this morning.
“This young boy has some lymphatic blood vessels malformed,” explains Dr. Berenstein. “The lymph nodes is where the foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria get processed in the body – where the white blood cells are and defense mechanisms of the body are. In some cases…instead of draining properly, they create cysts, creating deformity of the face.”
Dr. Berenstein, who is of Mexican-Jewish background, says sclerotherapy is his expertise.
“In the lining of the blood vessels, we inject something using ultrasound and x-rays to see where we are going,” he says. “Twenty-five to 30 years ago, I used alcohol. Now we have refined it with foams so that it has more contact surface to destroy the inner lining and let it scar.”
He explains that this agent was originally developed to treat cancer, but a doctor in South Africa noticed it damaged blood vessels and veins.
“It’s very effective,” says Dr. Berenstein, who happens to perform this surgery, which takes about an hour and a half, 10 to 12 times a week.
He expects three or four more sessions will be needed in intervals of six to eight weeks.
“We should see results by the second one,” says Dr. Berenstein, explaining 90 percent of cases result in success. “The goal is to make him look very normal. We don’t want damage to take place, so we go slowly.”
Although he says lymphatic malformation is not common, Roosevelt Hospital performs about 200 such procedures a year.
“I don’t think there’s many places that do as many as we do,” says Dr. Berenstein, who in his 60’s is still active researching and developing new treatments for strokes or other new conditions. “Roosevelt Hospital has been super generous. I was able to talk interventional neuroradiologists, pediatricians, and intensive care doctors to agree to donate their time, and expertise, to help this young boy.”
Denise Malsky, coordinator of the International Inbound Program of Healing the Children New Jersey, says Joel will probably have to continue to live with his foster parents in New Jersey for another three to six months, but his family in the Dominican Republic will continue to be kept informed of his status.