Beyond our hospital walls – Coastlines

When Robert Bach, MD, a surgeon at St. Luke’s Hospital, met Ronald Robles he knew the gravely

injured Nicaraguan teen’s only chance for survival lay in obtaining medical services in the U.S.

What Dr. Bach didn’t know was how employees at St. Luke’s would embrace the young man and his mother and provide them with the help, care and friendship they needed so much.

An angry girlfriend poured battery acid in Robles’ drink, destroying his esophagus and causing severe burns to his mouth. When Dr. Bach brought Robles to the U.S., he had not eaten a meal in two years.

Nicaraguan physicians had inserted a feeding tube in his stomach, but the necessary life-saving surgery was too complicated for any Nicaraguan hospital. Lack of proper

nutritional supplements had left the young man extremely thin and run down. Dr. Bach brought Robles and his mother, Marina, to the U.S. in March 2003, first settling them in Maine and then relocating them to Massachusetts. Dr. Bach settled the family in Acushnet, near a Spanish-language church and close to the physician’s own home. Physicians at Children’s Hospital, in Boston, performed a colon interposition, which uses a portion of the colon to replace the esophagus, and other surgeries to

reconstruct the young man’s mouth. In all, Robles underwent five surgeries over a two-year period, some of which lasted more than 10 hours.

“People who have a colon interposition sometimes have problems with swallowing and aspirate their

food,” Dr. Bach said. “Members St. Luke’s Speech Pathology department stepped in to help.”

Speech pathologist Colleen Foley-Lunt, CCC-SLP, performed a modified barium swallow — a live X-ray of a patient swallowing liquid that helps assess the ability to swallow and retain food and liquids. Melissa Davis, CCC-SLP, provided follow-up treatment and education, teaching Robles swallowing techniques and strategies on how to eat without vomiting. Members of the Nutritional Services department advised Robles on proper nutritional supplements. Ida Smith of Patient Financial Services worked to obtain free care for him.

The Radiology Film Library performed some Christmas magic for the Robles, which extended well beyond the holiday season. “It was getting close to the holidays and the department was going to adopt a local family to buy presents for,” said Marlene Boyer, Film Librarian. “Then Dr. Bach told me about Ronald and his mother and I decided I wanted to do something for them.”

“When we found out about it, we all decided to join in,” said Jorge DosSantos,Film Librarian.

The department pooled enough money to purchase a tree, decorations, a food basket, gifts and a gift card to Wal-Mart so that the Robles could purchase items they needed. Dr. Bach secured a key to the Robles apartment St. Luke’s staff rallies continued from cover and, when mother and son were out, members of the department snuck in and outfitted the house for the holiday.

“Dr. Bach said they couldn’t believe their eyes when they got home,” Boyer said. “They sent us a

Christmas card and came personally to thank us.” The department also pooled their resources in the

new year to further help the family. “The generosity of the staff of the film library was just overwhelming,” Dr. Bach said. “As was the help of so many other people at the hospital, many of whom go unnamed. There’s no way I could ever thank everyone enough.”

With his surgery complete and able to again eat solid food, Robles and his mother returned to

Nicaragua in June. While the two must completely rebuild their lives there, they are optimistic about the future. Robles learned English during his stay and also became fascinated with computers after one was given to him as a gift. He will attend university to study computer technology.

“When this happened to me, I couldn’t trust anyone,”

Robles said. “But all these people helped and I learned that people are good.”