It was hard to tell who flashed the most ecstatic smile — the little boy who underwent 10 surgeries in less than a year or the doctors who helped him finally show off his pearly whites.
Ten-year-old Kevin Rosero is going home to Ecuador after doctors at Stony Brook University Hospital performed a series of surgical procedures to repair his severely deformed lower lip and give him a beaming smile.
The effort was made possible by a Long Island-based charity called Blanca's House, which helps provide medical assistance to people in Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Kevin is the second child brought to the U.S. for medical care by Blanca's House, said spokeswoman Kerry O'Sullivan, although more than 2,000 patients have been treated on site in those countries in the past five years.
"I feel good," Kevin told a phalanx of reporters at a press conference on Friday. When he arrived in the U.S. in January, Kevin did not speak English, but he attended elementary school with a host family in Miller Place and has since become fluent, his host mother, Sheila Campbell said.
Despite his brand-new smile, the little boy became emotional on several occasions when he tried to thank his doctors for their work.
"I feel a little sad, too."
Physicians say Kevin, who comes from Riobamba, Ecuador, was born with a rare, massive venous malformation on his lips. The condition made it difficult for him to eat, and doctors were concerned about additional health complications that could lead to blindness or death.
Dr. Alexander Dagum, a chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Stony Brook, had examined Kevin about a year ago on a Blanca's House mission to Ecuador. Dagum said he determined that the little boy required extensive treatment over many months, and arrangements were set in motion to bring him to the United States for surgery. The medical costs for the boy's surgeries were picked up by the hospital as part of its mission as a teaching facility, a spokeswoman said.
Another physician who treated Kevin said he was amazed by the little boy's courage.
"It was difficult for me to imagine such a young boy being away from his family for such a long period of time and going through these multiple traumatic operations," said Dr. Henry Woo, an endovascular neurosurgeon.
"Everyone says what a great thing we have done," Campbell said. "We have gotten so much more than we gave. I'll never forget Kevin; we're going to be friends forever."
As part of his send off, Kevin received a surprise visit at the press conference from the Stony Brook men's soccer team, where he was presented with an autographed soccer ball and T-shirt and invited to sit on the bench at Friday night's contest against the University of Rhode Island.
"Kevin, throughout the course of his life, has really shown what it means to be a champion," coach Ryan Anatol said.