Before his surgery last month, 16-year-old Jean Victor Gustave's heart beat so hard that he could hear it all throughout the night sometimes.
Growing up in Leogane, a city in Haiti where little to no medical care is available, he spent nearly 15 years suffering from an undiagnosed hole in his heart. The condition left him thin from the constant fatigue and lack of appetite.
Now Gustave looks forward to living a normal life. He wants to study computers and possibly return to the United States one day, but more immediately, he looks forward to playing futbol (soccer) with his friends.
When Dr. Frederic Guerrier, or Dr. G., came across the boy on a medical mission to his native Haiti he knew immediately what had to be done.
Nearly a year later Guerrier brought Gustave and his mother, Yolene St. Juste, to live with him in his Tierra Verde home while the boy awaited surgery. Guerrier covered the cost of the entire trip.
When the first procedure failed to patch the hole, he sent Gustave and his mother to Philadelphia to visit family, while they awaited open heart surgery.
The second surgery was successful but he will need to return to the United States in six months for a final procedure.
"When he tells me that he has a lot more energy, that he's feeling better, that he's feeling stronger, then it's no trouble," said Guerrier, who has promised to help the boy return for his final surgery.
Volunteering his time and energy seems to come naturally to Guerrier. Aside from running his practice as a family physician, for 26 years he has spent one day a month volunteering at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.
"He's very special. He goes above and beyond. I don't think anyone has asked him for help and been turned down," said Gladys Leon, a retired nurse who has known Guerrier for more than 20 years.
But Guerrier relied on the charity of many people to get Gustave the care he needed.
The procedures were done free at All Children's Hospital. The cardiac surgeon, nurses, anesthesiologist and administrative staff all volunteered their time.
President and CEO Gary Carnes said the hospital performs about 10 charity heart surgeries a year for children from outside the United States; no child from the U.S. is ever turned away.
Gustave and his mother will return to Haiti this week.
Guerrier plans to return to Haiti on another mission this year and hopes to bring Gustave back for his final procedure.
They're facing a time crunch, Guerrier said.
"Whatever we do we have to get it done before he's 18."
Nick Johnson can be reached at
email@example.com or 893-8361.