Cristian Cruz Choccata lives in Peru, in a two-room house with his parents, four sisters and a brother. He’s 18. He goes to school. He speaks a little English.
Later this month, he’ll leave home, get on a plane and come to Seattle. It won’t be a pleasure trip. He’s not in a study-abroad program.
“His diagnosis is macroadenoma,” said Rebecca Snyders, executive director of Healing the Children’s Oregon and Washington chapter. In simpler terms, Choccata has a tumor in his pituitary gland. The gland, at the base of the brain, is involved in the release of hormones.
Untreated, this type of tumor can cause headaches, bleeding and pressure on the optic nerve that could lead to blindness. Trouble with the gland’s hormonal role can stunt growth.
“He is very small for his age, it has definitely affected his growth,” Snyders said of the teen who lives in Cusco, in the southern part of Peru. “It’s growing so quickly, we’re all concerned about getting him here. His condition is worsening by the day.”
From its offices in Everett, the nonprofit volunteer organization works to send medical teams to treat needy children around the world. Snohomish County doctors and nurses have traveled again and again to South America and Asia, donating time and expertise. When the medical needs call for specialized care in the U.S., Healing the Children brings patients here.
Choccata is scheduled to arrive in Seattle on Jan. 30. Dr. Marc Mayberg, a neurosurgeon at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, said Monday he plans to operate on the teen soon after his arrival. The surgery date isn’t yet scheduled.
“He has a very good prognosis. We have the plane ticket, passport and visa. We’re just missing a caring family,” Snyders said.
For about three months, the time before and after surgery, Choccata will stay with a volunteer host family. He’ll need transportation to and from appointments. “Many of our host families have been from Snohomish County,” said Snyders, adding that a number of Everett Clinic doctors volunteer with Healing the Children.
The agency doesn’t require hosts to be licensed by the state. A volunteer social worker with Healing the Children conducts home checks to screen potential hosts, Snyders said. Ideally, the teen would have his own room — but with siblings ages 3 to 21, he’s used to cramped quarters.
“I would do it in a heartbeat,” said Snyders, whose agency doesn’t allow her to be host. “Our policies are governed by a board of directors.”
Several years ago, her family was able to welcome a Healing the Children patient into their Mill Creek home for respite care. That boy was Jordy Erazo Cordero, here from Ecuador in 2003 to be fitted with his second set of titanium legs. Now 13, Jordy was born without lower legs. The condition, tibial hemimelia, left him at birth with vestiges of feet at his knees.
In 2001, his legs were amputated above the knees at the Shriners Hospitals for Children-Portland Research Center in Oregon. Until that surgery, he could only drag himself across the ground. With his first set of prosthetic legs, Jordy could stand and walk for the first time. In Ecuador, he ran in a footrace similar to the Special Olympics.
Jordy was 10 when he stayed with Snyders, her husband and two children in the summer of 2003, while his host family was away on a trip.
“These kids become part of your family. You end up with this wonderful tie in another part of the world,” Snyders said. “My kids gained a lot. I’ll never forget my daughter, after meeting Jordy, said, ‘Mom, this kid is so poor. He lives in a little hut. He has no legs.’ He was 10, she was about 11, and she learned that other people in her world are not as fortunate as we are.”
Jordy has grown enough that he’s due to return for a third set of legs, probably within the next six months. “We found a donating doctor. We need to schedule his appointments,” Snyders said. “Sadly, in those countries children don’t grow as quickly due to nutrition. But he’s ready for new legs.”
In playing host, her family was enriched. Snyders is certain the same will be true of the household that welcomes Cristian Cruz Choccata.
“It’s definitely a change for your family. It’s a new person and you all have to adjust,” she said. “The reward is feeling that you made a difference in somebody’s life.”
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Host family needed
Healing the Children seeks a volunteer host family for a teen from Peru. He’ll arrive Jan. 30 to undergo surgery at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center. He is expected to stay about three months. Host families provide room, board and transportation to medical appointments. For information, call Rebecca Snyders at 425-252-4505. For more about Healing the Children, go to www.htcoregonwashington.org.