Mission Honduras LeMars: Illich's Story
Leo Buscaglia (1924 - 1998)
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Mission Honduras LeMars Aids Little Boy

Along with his mom Lissie and dad Juan, Illich Rivera returned to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Christmas Eve afternoon. He was met at the airport by his extended family.  Francis Seivert, representing Mission Honduras LeMars, took the family to Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport early December 24, 2007, for their flight home.

Illich, sponsored by Mission Honduras LeMars, entered the U.S., along with his mom and dad, October 19, 2007, after Mission Honduras LeMars received a charity waiver from the Mayo Clinic and the necessary visas from the U.S. Government. Illich's first appointment occurred on October 24, 2007.  Illich and parents stayed at the home of Mark Kellen in Rochester during their 9 week stay and were assisted daily by Francis Seivert, Elkton, SD.


Dr. Roshini Sarah Abraham meets Illich


Dr. Roshini Sarah Abraham and Dr. Tom Boyce, assisted by Dr. Marie Christine Aubry, all working for the Mayo Clinic, paved the way for the charity waiver obtained from the Clinic. Dr. Abraham and Dr. Boyce were joint sponsors for the Mayo Charity Care Waiver and both continued to be primarily involved with this little boy. Dr. Aubry, who had journeyed to Honduras with one of the Gehlen Mission Honduras Medical teams, actually introduced Illich's case to both Dr. Roshini and Dr. Boyce.  Eventually, the list of doctors that little Illich had totaled over 16. 


Illich with Dr. Salman Kirmani


Originally, Illich came to the Mayo Clinic for evaluation of a 'presumed primary immunodeficiency with failure to thrive' as well as treatment for 'premature cataract development' and Illich was going blind. Once at the clinic the team of doctors started to uncover many of the other issues that this little boy suffered from. Illich was 23 months old when he entered the U.S. and weighed only 11 pounds. The issue of his 'developmental delay with failure to thrive' became the number one problem facing the Mayo staff.

Soon after Illich came to the Clinic and after endless discussion among the doctors, it was concluded Illich did not have a primary immunodeficiency disorder. They determined his numerous infections were most likely the result of his failure to thrive and a weakened immune system. They determined this issue would be treatable with life-long antibiotics. But this alone did not solve his failure to thrive issues. Many more weeks of office visits and testing of various kinds would eventually unravel some of this little boy's problems.


Illich receives the sacrament of the sick


The results of his tests showed that Illich suffers from a very rare genetic disorder known as 'trichothyodystrophy(TTD).' There is no known cure for this illness. Dr. Abraham called this case 'complex.' Besides the numerous doctors at the Mayo Clinic who puzzled over Illich, his case was also shared with an immunodeficiency expert from the United Kingdom. All sorts of other rare immunodeficiencies were contemplated to cover the constellation of clinical features Illich presented, but ultimately these were eliminated in favor of the likely diagnosis of TTD.  In spite of this genetic disorder, his immune deficiency, his original blindness, a swallow problem, and a number of other ill health issues, Illich had, nonetheless, put on some weight while in Rochester (He weighed about 13 pounds on his last day at the clinic.), and seemed to have gotten considerably stronger.  "I think the general  feeling is that Illich can live, he can grow up, he can improve with time and care, and have some semblance of a good life. Time will tell on all of this," commented Seivert.

In late November and early December, 2007, Illich had successful surgery on his eyes. He did develop an infection during one of these surgeries and was hospitalized for three days in St. Mary's Hospital. The doctors and nursing staff at St. Mary's did a wonderful job with him. His sight was immediately better, and a special pair of glasses was ordered for this little boy. The glasses eventually arrived a week before he returned to Honduras.

Illich wears his new glasses after cataract surgery

Richard Seivert, director of Mission Honduras LeMars, was with Illich and his family on December 23rd and 24th and commented "how special it was for everyone that this little boy could see again. What a great job Dr. Michael Brodsky and his staff did with Illich and his eyes."

Illich spent the last few weeks, while under the care of Mayo doctors, nurses, therapists, and staff, in dozens of appointments with various doctors and researchers. From infectious diseases specialists, dermatologists, neurologists, gastroenterologists, dieticians, to geneticists, Illich had somewhere around 55 appointments during his almost 10-week stay in Rochester.  Richard Seivert said, "He had every kind of test you could possibly imagine, and every doctor, nurse, therapist, translator, and researcher he came into contact with simply fell in love with this very sick little boy. A few weeks ago I commented that Illich was in the best place in the world to save his life. I now know that to be true. The compassion for this little boy, beginning with Dr. Roshini Sarah Abraham and Dr. Tom Boyce, right through to every doctor, nurse, technician, and translator, was absolutely amazing. It is no wonder the Mayo Clinic has the reputation it has. "


Dr. Tom Boyce meets with Illich's parents


Upon going back to Honduras, Illich's parents were instructed in many ways to improve the condition of their son's life. Although his illness is incurable, medications, many forms of therapy, and improved dietary intake should help him to grow up. Mission Honduras LeMars will continue to track Illich's progress and assist him in any way possible.

 Richard Seivert commented, "We know it is a life-long process for this little boy, his parents, and his extended family. They seem to be a very loving and devoted young family to this little boy; they have great faith in God, and great faith in the Mayo Clinic. If someday we must bring this little fellow back to the Mayo Clinic, God willing, we will."

Illich wears his new glasses

The purpose of human life is to show compassion and the will to help others.

~ Albert Schweitzer

Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred different talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity
to do so.

Dan Juan, Illich, & Mom Lissie

~ Doris Lessing

Dr. Abraham commented, "His family support and structure seems to be excellent, and his parents have been educated in the best way to provide care for him. However, the critical element for his survival was making the right diagnosis. This has enabled the doctors and staff at the Mayo Clinic to offer the right advice, make the correct recommendations, and develop a treatment plan tailored for Illich's unique needs."

Seivert noted, "One place on the internet I was searching said there are only 15 known cases of 'trichothyodystrophy' in the world. In the last two weeks Illich was under testing at the Mayo Clinic, many doctors and specialists were involved in seeing this rare disorder - many seeing it for the first time. Dr. Abraham said, "Yes, I think this may have been the first case of TTD seen and diagnosed at Mayo." She went on to say "intense physiotherapy, occupational therapy and improved dietary intake and feeding are key to Illich's survival and growth."

Mission Honduras LeMars would like to thank all of those who have supported this effort, especially all the medical people at the Mayo Clinic and St. Mary's Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital, specifically Dr. Roshini Sarah Abraham, Dr. Tom Boyce, Francis Seivert, and Mark Kellen. 

Richard Seivert holds Illich the day before Illich's return to Honduras

Richard Seivert, director of Mission Honduras LeMars said, "As a high school teacher I sometimes put the following at the end of tests:  The End...or...Maybe the Beginning

Let us all hope that the time Illich and his parents spent at the Mayo Clinic is the beginning of a long life for one little boy from Honduras."


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