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Surgery

Steve Kramer raising money to bring Berlinda to U.S. to undergo surgery on her two clubbed feet

By Desirée Keegan

Through the efforts of a retired physicist, an orthopedic surgeon from Stony Brook University and a dedicated Haitian who has since moved to Long Island, a 16-year-old from Haiti is on a path with more open doors than ever.

Berlinda was born with two clubbed feet, though she is motivated to better herself, with the dream of one day walking on her own two feet. Steve Kramer, a retired Brookhaven National Lab accelerator physicist met the student in Haiti through Life & Hope Haiti, a nonprofit founded by Haitian-American Lucia Anglade, who built the Eben Ezer School in her hometown of Milot, Haiti.

Berlinda practices arithmetic. Photo from Steve Kramer

“She had only been at the school for a few months and she was already learning basic arithmetic,” Kramer said of seeing Berlinda back in March, after meeting her during her introduction to the school in December. “I gave her two columns of work and she handed it back to me with a big smile and said, ‘more.’”

Berlinda has spirit, according to many who have met her, and Kramer was so moved by the story that he reached out to Dr. Wesley Carrion at Stony Brook University School of Medicine’s orthopedics department about performing surgery to fix the girl’s feet. He agreed to do it free of charge.

When he contacted Carrion, Kramer said his secretary Joan mentioned he was deployed in Afghanistan and she didn’t know when he would return. Within a day or two she called to tell him she’d heard from the doctor, who said he’d return by April. In May, the two met.

“I sent him copies of Berlinda’s X-rays and the video and he said he felt he could treat her and rotate the feet, and he would donate his time and get the equipment donated,” Kramer said. “That was a big relief. I felt it might become a reality.”

Carrion had informed Kramer that he would need to get the hospital to donate some of the costs, so Kramer reached out to the Department of Medicine’s Dr. L. Reuven Pasternak, who serves as vice president for health systems and chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

What the external cages look like that will be used to repair Berlinda’s clubbed feet. Photo from Steve Kramer

“He said they would cover her hospital costs,” Kramer said after his meeting with Pasternak in July. “This was a bigger relief since beside rotating the club feet we need to check out the status of the hole her spinal column might still have from the spinal bifida she was diagnosed as having. Everyone told me the hole doesn’t close up on its own, but she is doing so well that it may have, but it needs to be checked and closed if it is still open.”

To help bring Berlinda to the United States, Kramer set up a GoFundMe to raise money for her flight cost and other post-operation expenses.

“The fundraising has been going slower than I had hoped, even though everyone I contact is verbally supportive,” he said. “As a physicist my human appeal needs a lot of improvement to really move people to give. But then I look at the video and see the determination she has and feel she will deal with it as she has the tragic events she has already endured and I know she will persevere and will learn to walk.”

Following the surgery, Berlinda will be in the hospital for four months, getting her feet rotated to stretch the tendons as part of the healing process. Her legs will be in cages called external frames that will be attached by pins drilled into her leg bones. Because these create open wounds, it’s best for her to stay the hospital instead of returning to Haiti, to keep the wounds sterile. While recovering, she will continue to go through schooling, which will be one-on-one instead of in a larger classroom back in Haiti.

Without the construction of The Eben Ezer School, Berlinda’s struggles might never have come to light for Kramer. What began as a 10-child school back in 2001 has grown to population over 400, according to Anglade.

“I took the $7,000 I received from my tax return and decided I wanted to build a school in my home country — that had been my motivation,” said Anglade, who now lives in West Babylon. “I’m so blessed. I thank God for that, say thank you all the time. It’s a big school now, and we’re still helping.”

Berlinda crawls on her hands and knees because she cannot walk with her two clubbed feet. Photo from Steve Kramer

Anglade first visited Berlinda at her house, and heard from the 16-year-old how her brothers and sisters attended school, and she wished she could join them. Because the school is far from her house, she couldn’t walk there.

“I went to her house and she was quiet, said she can’t go to school,” Anglade said. “I told her I was going to help her, and I took her to the school. I pay someone to stay with her at the school. Her dream is to walk, to learn, to be someone. She wants to be happy.”

Kramer and Stony Brook University Hospital are making her dream a reality.

“Thank God for Steve — he has a good heart and I can’t do it by myself,” Anglade said. “With all my heart, I am so happy. Steve has put in a lot of effort to helping Berlinda make her dream come true.”

Kramer first visited the Eben Ezer School through Wading River’s North Shore United Methodist Church in 2015. He joined a group visiting Haiti in February, and has since visited three more times by himself and with Anglade. They are working toward improving the facilities at the school through solar power and updating the water system.

Kramer also provided economic opportunities for students and natives of the town. He cultivated a group of farmers that grow ancient Egyptian wheat, kumat, which is exported to the U.S.

Now, he’s trying to help provide a future for Berlinda.

“She’s very positive, she’s a sponge for learning,” he said. “I just want to help this Haitian girl who has had a tragic life story so far, but has kept her joy of life and has determination to improve herself.”

Sixteen-year-old Berlinda from Haiti will be receiving surgery on her two clubbed feet at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Steve Kramer

Amy Miller, of Maine, who has helped Anglade since 2007, said she finds what Kramer is doing admirable.

“I met Berlinda and I really respect his desire to help her move forward,” she said. “You meet someone and they kind of capture your heart, and I think you have to follow your heart. That’s what he’s doing.”

Both said they are also moved by Anglade’s motivation.

“I am tremendously inspired by Lucia,” Miller said. “She’s a force. Lucia is a person that astounds most people that meet her — her energy and her commitment. She loves the kids and it’s wonderful to watch. The community once said she should be their mayor after she brought water to the school she also to the community. She’s quite something.”

Anglade said she’s just doing what she thinks is right, in giving back to her hometown.

“My four kids here go to school, they’re in college, they eat every day, but in Haiti, we don’t have enough to feed over 400 kids, so sometimes when we’re down there for a week or two, we can only feed them for one week,” Anglade said. “I can’t go every week, but if I could go every week, every month, I’d go, just to help them. For me to be able to go down there to help those students, my community, I’m so happy to do it. I really feel good about it.”

To donate to help get Berlinda to the United States and to receive the care and post-treatment she will need, visit www.gofundme.com/BerlindasMiracle. To find out more about Life and Hope Haiti, or to get involved, visit www.lifeandhopehaiti.org.

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A professor and student at Stony Brook University School of Medicine look at a medical scan. File photo

Two major power players in the field of medical help and research have come together to form a new partnership.

Stony Brook University School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Health System, of New York City, have joined together to create more academic research opportunities to streamline and expand clinical care initiatives.

While they are not the first school of medicine to connect with a health system on Long Island — Hofstra University’s School of Medicine works with Northwell Health — this certainly means new breakthroughs are on the horizon in Suffolk County.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president for Health Sciences at Stony Brook University said that each institution will be bringing its biggest strengths to the table, thus making each other stronger.

Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine has strong biomedical, clinical research and health policy expertise, while Stony Brook University boasts programs with advanced mathematics, high-performance computing, and physical and chemical science departments.

Combining math and science programs together will help students become well rounded, and open up the possibility for new programs.

A press release said Stony Brook students will also be able to gain experience in areas of medicine that the university doesn’t currently offer, like observing and learning from heart transplants and other pilot programs. And students from either institution are now welcome to take classes at the other.

But this liaison is going beyond students.

Kaushansky said this partnership will improve patient care at both Stony Brook University Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital by allowing patients to easily seek services from either hospital.

This is a great endeavor that should be encouraged and supported by the community. Not only does this teaming help students get a more in-depth education and give professors more opportunities for expanded lessons, it will in turn help the residents of the North Shore by improving the care that the local hospital can offer through the new discoveries and breakthroughs the new partnership will make.

Leon Klempner poses with Dunia Sibomana in front of the Christmas tree. Photo from Amy Epstein

The last two years have been rough for Dunia Sibomana, but now that he has been brought to the United States for reconstructive surgery, everything could change.

Since the 8-year-old was disfigured in a chimpanzee attack — the same one that killed his younger brother — he had stopped going to school because the other children in his native Congo ridiculed him. And being extremely poor, he came to America weighing only 40-something pounds, although the typical weight for a boy his age is almost double that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Above, Dunia Sibomana and park ranger Andre Bauma both give a thumbs-up for school. Photo from Amy Epstein
Above, Dunia Sibomana and park ranger Andre Bauma both give a thumbs-up for school. Photo from Amy Epstein

Despite all he has gone through, volunteers from the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids said Dunia is still a sweet kid.

That group, founded by Poquott resident Dr. Leon Klempner, who until recently was an orthodontist based in Port Jefferson, is hosting Dunia on Long Island and will care for him through a series of surgeries to reconstruct his lips and cheek.

Klempner started his nonprofit organization a few years ago to care for kids with severe facial deformities who are often ignored by similar groups that repair simpler issues like cleft lips.

Dunia lost both his lips and has scarring on his cheeks after the chimpanzee attack two years ago on the outskirts of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, near that country’s border with Uganda and Rwanda. While his father was working in the fields, he was playing with his friends and his 4-year-old brother, Klempner said. The chimps “killed and completely dismembered” the brother, but a ranger fortunately found Dunia and rushed him to the hospital.

“He refused to go to school after the injury because the kids were just ridiculing him too much,” the Poquott man said. “He lost most of his friends.”

Dunia Sibomana hugs Eian Crean while playing with Collin Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana hugs Eian Crean while playing with Collin Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein

Smile Rescue Fund stepped in, bringing Dunia and that park ranger, Andre Bauma, stateside. Bauma was acting as a translator for Dunia, who only speaks Swahili, and helping him get settled with his Hauppauge host family, the Creans, but had to return to Congo last week.

Jennifer Crean said Dunia is getting along well with her three children, ages 10, 12 and 15.

“They have fun with him and he loves them,” she said. “So far so good.”

The family has taught him how to swing at the Hoyt Farm playground in Commack and taken him horseback riding, Crean said. Dunia has also played on an iPad, learned about Santa Claus and gone bowling.

“Everything for him is like brand new. It’s pretty cool.”

After the holidays, when things have slowed down, Crean said, the plan is to take him into New York City to see the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Dunia’s experiences here deeply contrast with his life back home — Klempner said the boy’s mother died when he was a toddler and his father is indigent, picking up work wherever he can, so they don’t have a home. And there’s not much food to go around.

Dunia Sibomana laughs with Grace Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana laughs with Grace Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein

At his temporary Hauppauge home, “He eats like a horse,” Klempner said. “He eats as much as Jenn’s teenage son.”

He’s also recently started instruction at Hauppauge’s Pines Elementary School, where he’s in the second grade. Klempner noted the biggest benefit of school is that Dunia is being reintegrated into a social setting, with kids who don’t mock him.

“They’ve been very warmly receiving him.”

He’s already picked up some English — Crean said with a laugh that “he knows the word ‘No’” — and has adapted to the new environment.

JenniferCrean-Dunia-wThe surgeries begin in early January, when Dr. Alex Dagum will put three tissue expanders into his face, under the skin on his cheeks and chin. Over a few months, Dagum will slowly fill those with saline, expanding them and stretching the skin. Once there is enough excess skin created, the expanders will come out and that skin will be cut away and used to reconstruct the lips and cheek.

Stony Brook University Hospital, where Dagum is chief of plastic surgery, has donated the facility and medical staff’s time to operate on Dunia, and is even preparing special meals for him. In addition, Klempner said, “nurses volunteered to be dedicated nurses for him when he comes in for surgery so he sees the same faces.”

Dunia Sibomana meets Santa Claus. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana meets Santa Claus. Photo from Amy Epstein

All of the work will add up to a new look for Dunia that will hopefully improve his quality of life at home in Congo when he is ready to return.

“He is sweet, and he is fun-loving; he’s got a sense of humor,” Klempner said. “He’s an 8-year-old kid that got a bad draw on life.”

Help needed
Smile Rescue Fund for Kids is searching for a local volunteer who speaks Swahili to translate for Dunia while he is in the United States, as well as volunteers who will spend time with Dunia, as a way of helping out his hosts, the Crean family. Contact Leon Klempner at 631-974-7511 or leon@smilerescuefund.org. For those who cannot volunteer but would like to help, Smile Rescue Fund accepts donations online, at www.smilerescuefund.org.

Uerda Zena colors before her heart procedure last week. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

A 4-year-old girl from Kosovo is recovering after a life-saving heart operation on Long Island, thanks to the work of local volunteers.

Mom Barbara Zena comforts Uerda as she recovers from her heart procedure. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
Mom Barbara Zena comforts Uerda as she recovers from her heart procedure. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

It took a village to support Uerda Zena. Rotary groups throughout Suffolk lent a hand to the girl and her mother, Barbara, through the Gift of Life program, which works to provide such stateside heart procedures to children from around the globe. Uerda’s Nov. 4 surgery to repair a hole in her heart the size of a nickel was a milestone effort that celebrated the Rotary program’s 40th anniversary.

The atrial septal defect closure performed on Uerda at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn will add 60 or more years to the little girl’s life, Port Jefferson Rotary member Debbie Engelhardt explained, but the surgery was not available in her home nation.

Engelhardt, who is also the director of the Comsewogue Public Library, said more than 19,000 children from dozens of countries have received life-saving surgeries since the Gift of Life program was born in Suffolk County four decades ago and expanded through Rotary International.

The medical team that took care of Uerda Zena, including Dr. Levchuck second from right, surrounds mom Barbara Zena. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
The medical team that took care of Uerda Zena, including Dr. Levchuck second from right, surrounds mom Barbara Zena. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

Rotary groups in the county are still going strong with Gift of Life, which is doubling up its efforts by providing doctors and medical staff in other countries with equipment and training to perform the heart procedures themselves.

“It’s a unique, renowned and respected Rotary-run program,” Engelhardt said.

Dr. Sean Levchuck, the pediatric cardiologist who performed the life-saving procedure on Uerda at St. Francis, described it as minimally invasive. To close the nickel-sized hole, he fed a catheter “the size of a coffee stirrer” into a vein in her leg and up to her heart, where the catheter deployed a device that, once placed in the hole, expanded to plug it. The cardiologist had to position the device properly while Uerda’s heart was still beating, mostly using ultrasound imaging to guide him.

Barbara Zena and daughter Uerda have fun at Chuck E. Cheese. Photo from Joe DeVincent
Barbara Zena and daughter Uerda have fun at Chuck E. Cheese. Photo from Joe DeVincent

The doctor said the procedure took between 45 minutes to an hour and required a team of nurses, an anesthesiologist and techs to assist with the imaging. The hospital donated the use of its facility and staff for the procedure.

Levchuck does about 15 of those procedures a year for Gift of Life, he said, with a fair number of the child recipients coming from Eastern European countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. He also sees kids from places like Haiti and Jamaica.

Just like in those other nations, the procedure to repair a hole in a child’s heart is not available in Kosovo, Levchuck said, because the hospitals don’t have the resources to train their staffs to do it. And the kids who are born with those defects are more prone to pneumonia or respiratory infections, which could also be difficult to treat in a developing nation.

“Problems in this country that are seemingly innocent take a whole new look” in places like Kosovo, the doctor said. But he is willing to help: “Keep ‘em coming. … It’s easy to donate time.”

In Uerda’s case, plenty of Long Islanders donated their time, with many people pitching in to make the girl’s medical procedure a reality. Sayville Rotarian Joe DeVincent wrote letters to get the girl a visa, and she and her mother are staying with a host family in Northport while here. DeVincent has also provided transportation to the Kosovan mother and daughter.

Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl's heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent
Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl’s heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent

The endeavor to save Uerda had an additional element of kids helping other kids — students at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, one of whom is Levchuck’s son, raised funds to bring the girl to the United States from her home in the Kosovan capital, Pristina, where her mother works at a bakery and her father at a public works plant.

“They’re a fine group of students over there that championed a cause,” the doctor said about the St. Anthony’s kids. “When you see something like that, you really get a nice warm feeling about the future.”

Uerda will be staying stateside for a little while longer, and Rotarians are trying to show her a good time. She has already gone on a play date to Chuck E. Cheese and visited a children’s museum, DeVincent said, and this weekend she will go into New York City with her mother and some native Long Islanders to visit Times Square and Rockefeller Center.

“Uerda really enjoys being with her mother,” DeVincent said.

And she has more energy to do these things than before.

After a heart procedure, Uerda Zena is now healthier than ever. Photo from Joe DeVincent
After a heart procedure, Uerda Zena is now healthier than ever. Photo from Joe DeVincent

“Her heart’s working better, her circulation’s better,” the Rotarian said. “The kid generally feels better than she has in her whole life. So this is a very happy story.”

Uerda will also appear at a Taste of Smithtown, an event in St. James on Nov. 17, where there will be food from restaurants along the North Shore. The 10th annual event will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz of Smithtown on Middle Country Road and will benefit the Gift of Life program, along with the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation.

The plan is for the Zenas to head home on Nov. 22, to be reunited with Uerda’s father and her 18-month-old brother.

“Her mother is in touch with her family in Europe through her cell phone and … Uerda has spoken to her brother over the cell phone,” DeVincent said. “She’s actually very maternal toward her younger brother.”

It is a happy ending for both the Kosovo family and Suffolk County Rotarians.

“When you’re doing something like this with an adorable 4-year-old child, it brings you tremendous satisfaction,” DeVincent said. “This is the best way to spread happiness, certainly for these children and their parents but also for yourself. Nothing that I do or have done in my life has brought me as much joy.”

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A before and after of a rhinoplasty, or “nose job,” by Dr. Gregory Diehl in Port Jefferson Station. Photos from Dr. Gregory Diehl

By Melissa Arnold

We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, even briefly: That nagging feeling of discontent about the way you look.

Maybe you’re a parent with stubborn post-baby weight, someone who’s had gastric bypass surgery with lots of extra skin or even someone recovering from a traumatic injury that’s affected your appearance. In all of these cases, lifestyle changes can only do so much.

For many years, plastic surgery has bridged that gap, giving patients from all walks of life the look they’ve longed for. And while it’s still going to cost you, going under the knife is simpler than ever.

An ancient practice
Believe it or not, plastic surgery has been around for thousands of years in two forms — reconstructive and cosmetic. According to the National Institutes of Health, some of the earliest body-altering procedures were performed in India around 800 B.C. At that time, people often had their noses cut off during conflict or as punishment, and simplistic rhinoplasties, “nose jobs,” were performed to reconstruct them.

Modern reconstructive surgery was born in wartime as soldiers dealt with facial trauma and other injuries. The American Board of Plastic Surgery was organized in 1937.

Cosmetic surgery took longer to become popular — the buzz surrounding it didn’t pick up until the 1970s and 80s, says Dr. Jim Romanelli of North Shore Plastic Surgery in Huntington.

“There was [originally] some resistance within medicine, saying it was unnecessary, dangerous and vain,” Romanelli said. “But today, we know a lot more about performing the surgery safely with good results.”

What began with involved, painful procedures and long scars has grown into a streamlined, patient-directed field of surgery with more natural-looking results and less hassle.

And these days, plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures are more accessible than ever. While no cosmetic surgeries are covered by insurance, there are now plenty of options to finance them, from saving up cash to working with a lender or financing company.

“Most people having cosmetic surgery just want to look in the mirror and feel happy and healthy,” Romanelli said. “These are everyday people — schoolteachers, musicians, bus drivers — not exclusively wealthy people or celebrities.”

While many patients opting for surgery are women, the number of male patients is growing too.

Modern trends
In the past, a patient’s wishes weren’t always a huge priority. Years ago, a surgeon may have only performed a procedure in a certain way. If the patient hoped for something different, they’d have to look elsewhere.

But today, it’s not uncommon for patients to bring in photos of the kind of look they’re hoping for, much like choosing a hairstyle or wedding dress, Romanelli explained.

Finding out what the patient really wants is the foundation of modern cosmetic surgery, says Dr. Hilton Adler of Suffolk Plastic Surgeons in Setauket.

“I always start by asking a patient what they’re looking for — what concerns them and what they want to see changed,” he said. “Then, following an exam, I’ll offer them choices based on what [technology is] available.”

Today’s most sought after surgeries aren’t that different from the past. Nose jobs, breast reductions or augmentations, tummy tucks and face-lifts all top the list.

“I wouldn’t say that any particular cosmetic procedure has been abandoned, just significantly modified. It’s almost like a brand-new procedure in some cases,” Adler explained.

For example, Romanelli says that the incisions used for breast-related surgeries have changed, allowing for a smaller scar. In some cases, the incision is made under the arm, where it’s less obvious.

There’s also the “mommy makeover,” which combines a tummy tuck and a face lift or breast work into one surgery.

Men usually come in for facial work, but many are also seeking help for gynecomastia, a condition that causes breast development.

“It’s tough on guys who are in high school or college whose breasts develop,” said Dr. Gregory Diehl of Diehl Plastic Surgery in Port Jefferson Station. “The hormones are fine, but the glands are bigger. Its become more common today to look for a fix.”

In reconstructive surgery, one of the most common procedures today helps to eliminate excess skin that often occurs in people who have experienced rapid or significant weight loss, Adler says. In many cases, the weight loss is aided by gastric bypass procedures.

Noninvasive procedures and more
Of course, not every cosmetic procedure requires surgery. In fact, minimally invasive and noninvasive procedures are extremely popular today, as new technology continues to develop.

“People are trying to get away from surgery, while things like Botox and other (injectable) fillers are becoming more popular,” Diehl said.

Injectables are a group of materials that can smooth wrinkles, plump other areas, and create a more youthful look overall.

Procedures such as CoolSculpting, which freezes and shrinks fat cells, and ultherapy, which uses ultrasound technology for tightening the face, are also on the rise, Adler said.

Put simply, if you can dream it, there’s likely a procedure to help you achieve it.

Planning your makeover
If you’re looking to have cosmetic surgery or another procedure, the first step is choosing the right surgeon.

“We urge patients to seek out board-certified plastic surgeons. Make sure your doctor has proper credentials,” Adler said.

Diehl also noted that they should offer to show you their previous work. “Ask for pictures of their surgeries. You should like what you see. Pictures tell the story,” he said. “Also, is the doctor really listening to you and what you want? You have to communicate. You have to make sure all the details are ironed out.”

Once you find the right person, a consultation lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

The surgeon will get an idea of what you’d like to do, and in some cases allow you to check it out using computer imaging.

If you’re satisfied, you’ll return for a second appointment to address any new questions or concerns before scheduling the procedure. The exact process and recovery time varies, depending on the procedure. Many surgeons have operating rooms in their own offices, and barring complications, a patient can go home the same day.

Making a difference
The surgeons are quick to note that there’s no longer any stigma surrounding plastic surgery. “People are proud of what they’ve done. They want to tell everyone about it,” Diehl said.

The surgeons are proud, too.

“People do say, ‘You’ve changed my life. I should have done this sooner.’ It’s wonderful to be able to help people with that,” Romanelli said.

Huntington neurosurgeon touts procedure’s success

This diffusion tensor imaging shows the patient’s nerve, brain and other tissue matter surrounding the white mass, which makes it easier for surgeons to diagnose and treat their patients. Photo from Ericca Ardito

When Jean Noschese’s left hand started to go numb, she didn’t expect her doctor’s visit to lead to brain surgery at Huntington Hospital, where she met Dr. Robert Kerr, a neurosurgeon who had a new way of operating on the brain.

On Oct. 16, 2013, Noschese experienced a head-on collision while driving in Hauppauge. The car accident left her in need of several surgeries, including ones to repair her rotator cuff and replace her hip. But it was when she started losing sensation in her left hand, in 2014, that she went to a specialist. Noschese, who initially wondered if her issue with her hand was related to her crash, was rushed to the hospital after her hand specialist thought Noschese was experiencing a stroke.

But instead of a stroke, the doctors found a three-by-four-centimeter lesion on the right side of her brain that caused paralysis on the left side of her body. Her lesion wasn’t caused by the crash, but from Noschese’s breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. Noschese was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.

Doctors wanted to perform brain surgery the following day, on Dec. 22, 2014, according to Noschese,

“It’s overwhelming to hear that you need brain surgery,” she said.

A large mass is located in the left hemisphere of the brain prior to the operation where Dr. Robert Kerr used Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Plan. Photo from Ericca Ardito
A large mass is located in the left hemisphere of the brain prior to the operation where Dr. Robert Kerr used Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Plan. Photo from Ericca Ardito

But Kerr, who met with Noschese when she entered the hospital, reassured her and reviewed the procedure with her. A new brain-mapping technique, using the Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Plan product, involves several new tools, including a highly engineered tube that splits brain tissue fibers and allows neurosurgeons to access difficult and deep parts of the brain easily. The procedure also utilizes a fiber optic, high definition telescope that creates a “cone of visualization” that allows surgeons to clearly view all planes of the brain they are working on.

The technique also features a procedure called the myriad, which uses a blunt suction device that peels off tumors from dangerous or sensitive areas without damaging surrounding areas in the brain.

“Traditionally, surgeries for deeper regions actually involve destroying a certain amount of tissue to get to the target area,” Kerr said.

According to Kerr, in traditional brain surgeries, metal retractors are used to create a pathway so surgeons can access target areas of the brain. Doctors use the retractors to pull the edges of the brain apart and create a pathway.

Kerr said the issue with this technique is that, regardless of how careful a surgeon is, he or she may still push on these retractors, which widens the pathway the surgeon created from surface of the brain to the target area. As a result, the patient is left with a hole in part of the brain, which means the patient will take longer to recover from the surgery.

Stony Brook Medicine Neurosurgeon Dr. David Chesler said Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Plan procedure is only appropriate under certain circumstances.

“Tumors that come right to the surface, where they’re easily approachable, I don’t think there’s any benefit to using this technique, because the tumor is right there,” Chesler said. Chesler took a course for the procedure about two years ago. While he thinks the technique is beneficial, he does not think it is a be-all and end-all procedure for brain surgery.

While the procedure is minimally invasive, may decrease the chance of injuring the patient during the operation and allows surgeons to approach lesions or blood clots, Chesler said there are some downsides to the technique. He said that the technology of this technique is not new, but simply creates a new system that makes it easier for surgeons to implement.

Additionally, minimally invasive procedures double or triple the length of an operation, depending on the surgeon and the nature of the surgery. Surgeons who may not be very experienced may leave parts of lesions or tumors and blood clots behind because of limited visualization.

A large mass is located in the left hemisphere of the brain has been removed with the use of Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Plan. Photo from Ericca Ardito
A large mass is located in the left hemisphere of the brain has been removed with the use of Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter Plan. Photo from Ericca Ardito

Surgeons can only see what is at the end of the tube, which is around the diameter of a dime.

Kerr said this procedure will decrease patients’ recovery time. Patients are usually tired following the surgery and require extensive amounts of rest before they are discharged from the hospital. Noschese, however, was alert and speaking two hours after the surgery. Not only did she regain sensation in her hand, but she was also able to grab and hold onto a variety of objects.

Chesler, like Kerr, said patients who receive traditional surgeries for deep-seated lesions or blood clots can do well. He said his patients’ deficits were more related to the “structures involved with the tumor,” as opposed to the approach used. Chesler has seen both good and bad outcomes from this technique

According to Kerr, few surgeons are using this technique.

“Neurosurgeons are skeptics and slow adopters and I think that’s appropriate,” Kerr said, explaining why more surgeons may stick to traditional brain surgery practices.

While Chesler said the procedure should be used for the right case and with an experienced surgeon, he said staff are looking to adopt this technique at Stony Brook University Hospital. Chesler, who does both pediatric and adult neurosurgery, said he is simply looking for the right case. Recently he hasn’t come across a case that calls for the technique.

Doctors must demonstrate the procedure and illustrate its benefits when introducing the technique to the hospital. Hospitals need to invest in the procedure for a surgeon to officially implement it.

Although Chesler said there are other systems that surgeons can use to reach a similar goal, Kerr said the technique is a glimpse into the future of this type of surgery.

“I think this technology reflects the future of neurosurgery and accessing deep-seated lesions in a kinder, gentler, more precise way,” Kerr said. “I think this is representing a future paradigm shift in the way that brain surgery is done, and I think that we will see many more adopting this in a very short period of time.”

The Errante family celebrates with a cake to mark 10 years since a life-changing surgery. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Ten years ago, at Stony Brook University Hospital, a life-saving operation was performed on a mother of triplets.

Michael, Samantha and Joseph Errante were born on Aug, 29, 2005, in an emergency cesarean section, after it was discovered that their mother, Roseann, had an aortic dissection.

“Technically, they saved my life,” Roseann Errante said. “I would’ve never felt the amount of pain if I wasn’t pregnant.”

The family gathered at the hospital on Monday, Aug. 10, so that the triplets could meet the doctors and nurses that saved their lives, and also have a surprise tenth birthday party thrown in their honor by the hospital.

Roseann Errante said she felt overwhelmed and grateful being back.“We never thought we’d be here 10 years later.”

In 2005, Roseann and Joe Errante arrived at Stony Brook University Hospital because she was complaining of intense chest pains. They had already been sent home from another hospital after being told it was just heart burn, however once the pain persisted, the couple decided to go to Stony Brook.

“They told us ‘we don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you’re not leaving until we find out’ which was so reassuring,” Roseann Errante said.

Dr. Frank Seifert, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Stony Brook, was soon operating on her for an aortic dissection, which is a tear on the inside wall of the aorta. If untreated, this disease can kill within the first 48 hours, and 95 percent are dead within a month.

But before Seifert could begin, Roseann Errante had to undergo a caesarean section, so that the triplets could be born as safely as possible.

“Forget Stephen King, this was much more terrifying than anything else I’d ever heard,” Joe Errante said of his wife’s diagnosis and emergency surgery.

The multi-hour surgery was a success, and while one of the triplets, Joseph, had to undergo two surgeries shortly after he was born to repair a burst intestine, all three babies and Roseann Errante returned home completely safe and healthy.

“I’m sure I speak for all the health care providers, seeing this right now is the ultimate satisfaction. Seeing patients go out and do so well, and then wanting to come back and express their thanks, it’s really heartwarming,” said Dr. Richard Scriven, who worked on the triplets and both of Joseph’s surgeries.

Both parents praised everyone in the hospital for how they treated them during that tough time, from the doctors and nurses to the workers in the cafeteria.

Now, as Michael, Samantha and Joseph turn 10, they have all grown into healthy kids, and enjoy playing sports, watching their favorite television shows and attending camps together, along with their older brother Anthony.

“We like the batting cages, playing European handball, running bases,” the triplets listed off together.

The Errante family resides in Hauppauge. The triplets are about to start their last year at Forest Brook Elementary School, and Anthony is in Hauppauge Middle School.

“I tell her, we’re never going to win the lottery because we used every bit of luck we had right then and there, and it was all worth it,” Joe Errante said.