Four-year-old African boy flown to St. Louis for life-saving surgery

2:58 PM, Nov 25, 2010   |    comments
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  • Patrick Booker
  • Patrick Booker

By Mike Bush

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) -- It's 7:00 a.m. at St. Louis Children's Hospital, and with the new day comes new hope for a four-year-old boy.

"It's like Christmas morning. This is the big day," said Wentzville's Kelli Tolle.

Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Brad Warner will be performing what he hopes is life saving surgery.

There's fear and tears when little Patrick Booker is taken into the operating room, but this is the reason he and his grandmother Kormassa Boi journeyed more than 5,000 miles from home. Patrick is from Monrovia, Liberia, located on the western coast of Africa. In early September, he accidentally drank caustic soda, which is used to make local soap. It seared his esophagus.

"As the burn begins to heal it causes scar formation and the scar formation squeezes down the opening of the esophagus," said Dr. Brad Warner from St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Patrick was unable to eat and was wasting away. His grandmother, Kormassa Boi, says she would lie on the floor next to him trying to stay awake.

"At night, I used to be worried that he might die when I'm asleep," she said.

But fate asserted itself.

Halfway across the world, Wentzville, Missouri's Corey Tolle got a phone call from his partner.

"He says would you happen to have any contacts in the medical field?" he said.

Tolle works out of his home for Crystal Enterprises, a mining company. His partner was working in Liberia when he read about Patrick in a local newspaper.

Less than three weeks later, Patrick and his grandmother were on a plane headed for St. Louis.

"We believe we are to share one another's burdens and this was a burden that was cast upon us," said Tolle.

Tolle had made a blind call to St. Louis Children's Hospital. The doctors in Liberia had done all they could for Patrick and coming to the U.S was his only hope. After hearing the story, Dr. Warner agreed to do the surgery for free.

"It touched me that someone really would die without doing something that I know how to do," Warner said.

After inserting a feeding tube, the goal over the past seven weeks was to get Patrick strong enough for surgery.

"When I first picked him up, I thought I was going to break him," said Kelli Tolle, Corey's wife.

During this time something else happened too. Patrick and Kormassa became part of the Tolle family. If Patrick isn't at Children's or the Tolle's home, he's been at Ranken-Jordan Pediatric Hospital. Kelli has been there every day, never mind that she has three boys of her own.

"They refer to him as their brother because in their heart, that's what he is," she said.

Kormassa says the Tolle's are now part of her family too. And for a doctor to perform this surgery for free, it's overwhelming.

"I consider the doctor, God is first, and he is a second God to me," she said.

The surgery itself is complicated. Dr. Warner will be removing Patrick's esophagus and replacing it with a section of his colon.

"You know there is risk because when you replace the esophagus, nothing that you use to replace the esophagus works as well as the regular esophagus," he said.

After more than eight hours of excruciating waiting, Dr. Warner emerged from the operating room to deliver the news.

"Everything went great. Couldn't be better," he said.

Patrick will spend a week or two in the hospital and then more time learning to eat again at Ranken-Jordan.

"There is no reason that he can't have a normal life after this," Warner said.

Of course, normal has a new definition. Life-saving surgery has turned into a life changing event for everyone involved.

"I can't imagine sending them back home, I don't really want to think about that day," said Kelli.

Sometimes 5,000 miles does not seem so far. With a little compassion and kindness you can actually reach across the globe and touch someone.

"Needless to say, we may be making a lot of trips to Liberia," said Corey.



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