Haitian teen with cancer is adjusting to Pittsburgh

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Kenson Jean would not be left behind.

"We were told, 'no way' [could he leave], but we just kept pushing, pushing, pushing," said Mark Sangimino, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital.

Kenson, a 16-year-old from Haiti, was granted last-minute permission over the weekend to fly to Pittsburgh for treatment of bone cancer. He arrived at AGH's Suburban Campus in Bellevue on Sunday and Monday, medical staff held a news conference to provide an update on his condition.

Medically, his treatment is in the evaluation stages. Two days of MRIs and other testing will help doctors determine if he will be able to keep his left leg.

His cancer was described as "advanced," possibly 10 months along, said Dr. Sangimino. At the very least, reconstruction, followed by chemotherapy and rehabilitation, will keep Kenson here for some time. The teen did not appear at the news conference.

"He understands all the possibilities," said Dr. Sangimino, who met Kenson several weeks ago while working with a combined relief effort from Pittsburgh. There was little the medical staff could do for him at the time, but Dr. Sangimino said there was something about the boy that persuaded him to return.

"My team had been in and out, but I went down this weekend specifically to get this boy out," Dr. Sangimino said. "He was right where I left him, in the middle of chaos."

Kenson grew up on the island of Gonave, northwest of Port-au-Prince. He was in the capital city with a group from his local church when the earthquakes began three weeks ago. The leader of the group, a pastor from the island, was designated by Kenson's father as legal guardian and accompanied the boy and Dr. Sangimino back to Pittsburgh.

Whereabouts of his mother are unknown, the doctor said, although it is believed he has relatives living in the Boston area. The most recent relief trip -- which also served to drop off medicine and equipment -- was funded by Sewickley businessman Jim Bouchard.

Medical staff said it was important to help Kenson adapt to his new surroundings.

"He was scared, the pastor was scared ... [but] by midday, he was telling us what music he likes, what sports teams he likes," Dr. Sangimino said. "He knows he is in a place that will love him."

Although some of the hospital staff speak French, they have discovered there is a big difference between the European and Creole versions. Deborah Bohan, a physician's assistant in pediatric critical care, said Kenson is "the most amazing person I've met in some time ... He's teaching me Creole. I'm teaching him English."

Ms. Bohan said she brought him a notebook and he is keeping a journal. He's also asked to watch some action DVDs, and is partial to Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jet Li.

Maria Sciullo can be reached at msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478. First Published February 2, 2010 5:00 AM


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