Little boy travels 3,000 miles for life-changing surgery

Posted at 11:27 PM, Apr 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-14 23:27:54-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich - This story starts with a dental hygiene student who was working on a mission trip in Guyana, hearing about a little boy with a severe cleft lip.

Now after a year of organization, the little boy, Diraj Lackan, has traveled 3,000 miles for life changing surgery.

It's the family of the dental hygiene student who now serves as Diraj's host family in the U.S., all thanks to an organization "Healing the Children" in Grand Rapids.

It's an experience that's led the 17-month-old to new places, new people and an improved life.

John Girotto is the chief of pediatric plastic surgery at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," said Girotto.

He's the man responsible reconstructing Diraj's lip and palate in just 6 hours.

"We borrow tissue from the cheek on the inside to repair the roof of his mouth to fix the cleft palate," Girotto said.  "We reconstruct the muscles which help with speech, so he’ll be able to talk going home, and then we fix the lip on the outside as well as re-elevate and reconstruct the nose," he said.

Not only did the surgery improve the young boy's look, but his ability to speak, eat and breathe.

"I love it, I think it’s something special how we can somehow help along the way," said Roxanne Bareman, Diraj's host mother.

She hopes the surgery will help Diraj when he returns to Guyana, a country where those who are handicapped or different are often hidden because their parents are ashamed.

"They are shunned in their countries and when they come here they’re amazed at how they’re accepted here," Said Helen Salan, the executive Director of Michigan Ohio Chapter of Healing the Children.

"Our role is to facilitate bringing together kids in need with resources that are available to help them," Salan said.

She tells FOX 17 the organization has helped treat children from more than 80 countries from around the world where medical care is limited.

She helped Diraj get to America for free and helped him find his host family too.

Helen Salan is the executive director for "Healing the Children" in Michigan and Ohio.

"Our role is to facilitate bringing together kids in need with resources that are available to help them," said Salan.

Diraj is headed back to Guyana next Wednesday. As for "Healing Children," they're always looking for families to host kids. The Organization has helped more than 1,200 children and hope to assist many more. If you would like to donate or volunteer, click here.

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