TAMPA — His right cheek is still a little swollen, and there's a small section of it that remains numb to the touch.
But Jacques Saintil was all smiles Monday during a followup visit with Dr. Patrick Abbey, one of two local oral and maxillofacial surgeons who two weeks ago removed a large tumor that had been growing rapidly inside the 18-year-old Haitian's lower jaw.
"He's looking fantastic. He heals really well," Abbey said.
Saintil's journey to Tampa was the result of a series of events that began about 15 months ago, when the young man took a six-hour bus ride to a dental clinic near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince staffed by David Leever, a Tampa orthodontist.
An X-ray revealed that Saintil had a mandibular ameloblastoma, a noncancerous tumor that was eating away at his lower right jaw. If not removed, it would spread to other parts of his skull and likely kill him.
Leever contacted Tampa surgeons Abbey and Dr. Barry Levine, who agreed to help Saintil free of charge. Florida Hospital Tampa also stepped in to help, as did the vendor of a titanium bone plate that Saintil would need for the surgery. The total cost of Saintil's care would have cost more than $100,000.
Saintil's family members pooled money together to fly him to Florida.
On April 11, Abbey and Levine removed the tumor and a large portion of Saintil's lower right jaw, and replaced it with a bone plate made of titanium during a three-hour procedure. "Everything went well," Abbey said.
Since his surgery, Saintil has stayed at his cousin Jina Dorce's Lakeland home. He has been resting, watching TV – mostly cartoons – and taking trips to the mall and church, Dorce said.
On Monday, Abbey examined Saintil and told him he was cleared to return home to Haiti until July, when he is due back at Florida Hospital for a second major procedure, in which his lower jaw will be rebuilt using bone from his hip.
Abbey said that Saintil must continue to eat only soft foods for three more weeks. "No steak, pork chops or nuts," he told Dorce, who relayed the message to Saintil in his native Creole.
Saintil nodded and smiled.
"But he's missing his fried chicken," Dorce said.
Richard Martin can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3322.