Each year during our fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital, we write about patients who dodge death. Earlier this year, a boy brought to Children's was suffering from a cyst near his brain. But surgery saved him, and he is doing excellently. My associate, Lynn Ryzewicz, has the story:
He had a headache that wouldn't go away.
Gelvar Cavestany-Vergeldedios, 12, went to visit his mother's family in the Philippines for Christmas and New Year's nearly a year ago. The 24-hour flight was grueling. His mother, Leonelle Fitzgerald, and his stepfather, Brian Fitzgerald, were exhausted from jet lag. But Gelvar, who likes to be called Mikey, was sicker. He had a headache throughout the vacation and vomited on the plane ride home.
Two weeks after their return in mid-February, Leonelle brought Mikey to an eye doctor. Since he reads so much, she thought his headache might be from eye strain. The optometrist said something behind Mikey's eyes was causing pressure. He recommended that the Fitzgeralds take Mikey to an emergency room immediately.
The family appeared at Children's Hospital on Saturday night, Feb. 20. After a CAT scan, Philip Cogan, chairman of the neurosurgery department at Children's, identified a cyst the size of an egg on Mikey's brain. The growth, known as an arachnoid cyst, was acting like a malignant tumor. It was growing and endangering Mikey's life.
Then came more bad news. After the diagnosis, the parents learned that Mikey had no health insurance.
His father, who lives in Ohio, had dropped the boy from his insurance plan without informing Leonelle. Leonelle said that she had not arranged coverage for her son because she thought he still had it.
Nevertheless, Mikey was immediately admitted to the hospital to await surgery. His mother, the manager of the Cristophe hair salon on 18th Street NW, said she "thought maybe my son wouldn't get the same treatment because he didn't have health insurance. But no. They were wonderful."
On Feb. 23, three days after Mikey's arrival, he underwent neurosurgery to remove the cyst. In just this short time, the cyst had grown to the point where it was occupying three-quarters of his skull and pushing on his brain, Cogan said. If surgery had been delayed any longer, Mikey could have died.
The financial office at Children's allowed the Fitzgeralds, who live near Dupont Circle, to wait until after Mikey's operation to deal with the bill. Leonelle said she is grateful for this because, at the time, she couldn't think about anything clearly.
"We try to interview parents at a time which isn't intrusive," said Johnnie Hemphill Jr., director of the legislative office at Children's. "We're very sensitive to their situations."
After the operation, Children's helped Mikey qualify for Medicaid. The staff gave his parents the appropriate forms and guided them through the procedure. On March 1, Mikey was approved for Medicaid. In recent years, Hemphill said, Children's has helped 2,000 patients a year in the same way.
Mikey's medical costs should all be covered, Hemphill said, but the Fitzgeralds say bills are still being sent to their home. They are in the process of negotiating with Children's about what they do and don't owe.
Brian Fitzgerald, who is the production manager for Bachurski and Associates, a direct-mail fund-raising company, estimated that the bill for his stepson's care may exceed $150,000. He doesn't yet know how much of it will have to come out of his own pocket.
However, "Children's cares about both the patients and the parents," Brian said. He cited Cogan's warm sense of humor and follow-up calls from the staff.
Cogan said Mikey's case was a near miracle since virtually all of the cyst was removed and hasn't grown back. Cogan sees eight to 12 patients a year with similar cysts, he said. Usually, cysts will grow back to some extent after surgery. But Mikey's did not.
Mikey, a quiet child and a diligent student, never lost any motor skills and missed only a month of sixth grade at Stevens School on 21st Street NW. He made first honors despite the time he lost. Over the summer, he took it easy (Cogan's orders). Instead of going to the beach, he attended computer camp.
His life is back to normal. A dark-eyed boy with jet black hair, Mikey spends his time studying, collecting Beanie Babies and playing with his Game Boy computer toy. He occasionally sees Cogan for a routine checkup, but it's almost as if nothing ever happened.
The family's only reminders of a close call are a photo album tucked into a bookshelf and a pile of bills stacked on the kitchen table.
Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.
In hand as of Dec. 14: $145,926.31.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.