By David Luces
For one Ecuadorian native, attending a lecture by Stony Brook Medicine doctors changed his life.
Galo Del Hierro, 44, who works for the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos, was attending a lecture given by the Stony Brook Medicine team about skin cancer screenings and prevention in the archipelago. After the lecture, Del Hierro approached Alexander Dagum, a reconstructive plastic surgeon at Stony Brook, and showed him a lesion he had on his right eyelid that was not going away and had grown bigger in the last couple of years.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I’ve had this spot that has gotten larger for some time,’” Dagum said. “I looked at it and thought it was pretty suspicious and told him he should see one of our dermatologists.”
The team’s trip in March was part of a mission through Blanca’s House, a Long Island non-profit organization that works to bring much-needed, quality medical care to countries and communities throughout Latin America. The seven-person team from Stony Brook planned on providing screenings and other care for the local community. As they further examined Del Hierro, they realized they might have to bring him 3,051 miles away to Stony Brook for care.
Dr. Daniel Lozeau, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook Medicine, took a look at Del Hierro’s lesion and determined that they needed to do a biopsy. After testing was done, Del Hierro was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.
Lozeau said given the location of the melanoma it would make it difficult to remove.
“On the eyelid you have less room to work with,” he said. “It not like when it’s on someone’s back, where we have a lot more real estate [to work with].”
Dagum said if people in the Galapagos had anything serious, they would have to go over to the mainland in Ecuador, which is quite far. Initially, he tried to find a doctor on the mainland to perform the surgery for Del Hierro instead of bringing him to Stony Brook as it was more convenient for Del Hierro, but he couldn’t find anyone that could do it.
Lozeau said the cancer Del Hierro had is aggressive, and he could have lost his eye and his life.
Dagum then got clearance to perform the surgery as a teaching case at Stony Brook Medicine and with help from the Darwin Foundation and Blanca’s House, Del Hierro was able to come to Stony Brook for the surgery in May.
The Stony Brook plastic surgeon said the procedure takes several days and requires using skin grafts to reconstruct and support the lower eyelid.
“It was important they we got [the melanoma] out as quickly as possible,” Dagum said.
Dagum and colleagues removed the lesion in full around his eyelids, and reconstructed skin around the eyelid so Del Hierro could see properly and blink normally. He had a second procedure to adjust the eyelid.
The Ecuadorian native said through a translator that he was grateful and impressed with the care he received at Stony Brook.
Del Hierro said that he had first noticed the spot on his eyelid when he was 18 years old.
“It was a tiny little dot, and I didn’t really think much of it, I thought it was just a mole,” he said.
He admitted when he first got his diagnosis, he was worried for himself and his family, but trusted Dagum and the team.
With the procedures complete, Dagum said they are waiting for the swelling to go down and everything should settle in and heal up in the next couple of months.
Dagum expects Del Hierro to live normally; however, he recommends he should continue to get screened and have the eyelid area examined periodically.
Del Hierro’s case and the team’s experiences bring to light the importance of skin cancer screening and skin protection, especially during the summer season.
Lozeau said the Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
“Most important thing is to constantly re-apply frequently every couple of hours,” he said. “Hats are good to wear and make sure you have eye protection.”
The dermatologist said when it comes to skin cancer, if one notices a spot that hasn’t gone away or has grown in size, he or she should get it checked out. Also, he mentioned spots that constantly bleed or scab over.
“Galo was really fortunate. He was at the right place at the right time,” Lozeau said.