On July 2, 2017, Evelin Sazo and her son Saul boarded a plane in their home country of Guatemala. Their destination was Richmond, VA to get life-changing surgery for the five-year-old boy.
“Saul was born with Apert Syndrome, a condition in which the fingers and toes are fused together, as are the bones in the head,” said Jennifer Rhodes, MD, Saul’s surgeon.
Saul and his mother came to the U.S. through World Pediatric Project, an organization dedicated to healing critically ill children around the world. When a WPP team evaluated Saul in Guatemala, they determined they didn’t have the technology, equipment and post-surgical care required to operate on him there and referred him to the U.S. referral team. This team links children with complex or urgent surgical needs to advanced pediatric hospitals in the U.S. WPP arranged for the Sazos’ trip to CHoR and provided emotional and logistical support, including language translation services, during their stay.
Saul’s first surgery took place on July 12, during which Dr. Rhodes and the craniofacial team expanded his skull by moving the front part forward and recasing it to give his brain room to grow. In a subsequent procedure, they separated the digits on Saul’s hands and feet.
“In the United States we would usually do these surgeries by the time a child turns one, but we didn’t meet Saul until he was five,” added Dr. Rhodes. “We were concerned about pressure on his brain and it not getting enough oxygen, so we did a lot of monitoring throughout the entire process.”
It’s been a long journey for Saul and his family, involving many doctor visits and extensive preparation prior to coming to the U.S. Saul’s progress in the short time since his surgeries has been wonderful, which means his mother finally feels at peace.
“He’s not in danger of his brain growing into his skull without enough space. Now he can continue to grow and develop,” said Evelin.
The abilities he’s gained with his hands have opened up a whole new world for Saul as well.
“Anything new really catches his eye. He has to touch and explore it. He’s a very curious child,” added Mom.
Saul had one final new adventure before heading back home – throwing out the first pitch at the Richmond Flying Squirrels game!* He practiced throwing a baseball, something he hadn’t been able to do previously, to prepare for the big event.
“We told him someone would be there with a bat, so he said he also wants a bat,” his mother laughed.
After nearly two months away, Saul and his mother returned home the day after the game. Their first priority was to reunite with their close-knit family, followed by getting ready for Saul to start school in a couple short weeks. After that, the sky is the limit for this extraordinary boy. Whether we see him hitting a home run, or performing surgery himself one day, we can be sure he will make a positive difference in the world.
*The crowds at the game were overwhelming for Saul. While he didn’t end up throwing the first pitch, he’s still a super star in our eyes.