Toddler Travels 1,600 Miles for Life-Changing Treatment

May 23, 2013

Dr. Earl Gage jokes with patient Justin Obrian following

his final office visit before returning to Guatemala.

By Mercy's Cherie Burroughs

ST. LOUIS - Little Justin Obrian of Antigua, Guatemala, was not quite 2 years old when he and his mother embarked on the trip of a lifetime. Thanks to the World Pediatric Project, the pair boarded a plane for St. Louis, where doctors at Mercy Children’s Hospital were waiting to begin a series of procedures that would offer Justin a new lease on life. 

Justin was born with Crouzon syndrome, a genetic disorder occurring somewhere between one in 50,000 and one in 100,000 births. It is characterized by the premature fusion of skull bones, leading to wide-set, bulging eyes, shallow eye sockets, eyes that do not point in the same direction, a beaked nose, and an underdeveloped upper jaw. Left untreated, Crouzon syndrome may cause airway obstruction, sleep apnea, dental deformities, vision problems and developmental abnormalities.

In Guatemala, Justin’s family did not have access to the critical surgical care needed to correct the toddler’s condition. In St. Louis, however, Justin would have access to a care team that included Mercy Children’s pediatric plastic surgeon Dr. Earl Gage and many other pediatric specialists – all donating their time and expertise to Justin’s treatment.

Following evaluations from each of the physicians, Dr. Gage performed surgery on March 27, 2013, to relieve the pressure in Justin’s skull. The fronto-orbital advancement procedure will allow Justin’s eyes, airway, jaw and brain to develop more normally. As Justin grows, he will return to Mercy Children’s for follow-up surgeries.

“Justin is healing well,” said Dr. Gage during a recent follow-up appointment. “I’ve asked his mom to monitor his progress at home, and to send me photos regularly so I can see how his face is developing. But I don’t expect he’ll need another surgery for three or four years – maybe longer.”

Justin’s mother, Kimberly Obrian, expressed gratitude to the physicians, the World Pediatric Project and the Ronald McDonald House for their contributions to Justin’s care.

“The doctors and nurses in the hospital were so nice,” said Obrian. “And the day after surgery, Justin wanted to be up and playing. I really appreciate everything that was done for us. I hope we can come back next year and make sure everything is good.”

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