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The Gift of a Confident Smile

January 16th, 2015


Many infants are born with birthmarks—and while many can mimic a favorable heart shape adored by parents—others are not as admired, specifically birthmarks known as congenital hairy nevus, a type of mole found on infants at birth. The congenital mole is often a light brown to black patch that over time can grow and with excess hair in variety of shapes and sizes. While it only affects 1% of infants worldwide, 15% of infants with the diagnosis have these patches located on their heads or neck, which overtime can become problematic and later present emotional issues. The standard form of treatment is usually surgical, and for smaller patches laser removal has proven successful. However for one 14 year old boy from the small island of Jamaica, without a team of mission-driven health care professionals from Long Island, removal of his congenital hairy nevus that covered almost half his face would have been impossible.

For Omar Reid, playing with friends was not a normalcy. When St. Catherine's operating room nurse Ethelia McKay was on holiday in her native Jamaica, as she drove through the streets, passed the plentiful mango trees and small villages, she saw a young boy, sitting at the side of the road, slumped. His body language showed anguish and sadness, so much that Ethelia stopped driving, pulled her car over, got out, and without hesitation, walked over to the boy to see what was ailing him. When he looked up at her, he need not say anything because on his face, he wore the story of his burden.

Omar was diagnosed with congenital hairy nevus as an infant, and as he grew, so did his unwanted birthmark that made him so different from all the other school children. Young children, even many adults seemed to scorn him, shattering his self-esteem and confidence, concealing a smile that could light up an entire room. Ethelia knew that after her holiday ended and she arrived back at the operating room at St. Catherine, the conversation had to start about Omar and how they could help him. The team of committed health care professionals were prepared and ready to bring him to the United States to begin his treatment plan. "I just wanted to try to offer him a chance, so I simply asked if there was anything that could be done and that question has changed one young child's life in such a positive way, forever," said Ethelia. "Omar's confidence that was once drowning in sadness has found its life, and now when you see him smile, you can't help but to smile too."

Photo (L-R): Omar Reid and St. Catherine’s Operating Room Nurse Ethelia McKay, RN.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon Nabil Kiridly, MD, took the lead with the surgery. “There was no question after Ethelia told me about Omar that we had to help him—it was just a matter of time,” said Dr. Kiridly. Omar has had two surgical procedures, one in July and another in November—his surgical plan thus far, consisted of skin grafting, whereby skin from his tummy replaced the surface of where the congenital mole used to be. He will continue to need follow-up care, and may need more surgery in the future, all of which will be sponsored by Dr. Kiridly and St. Catherine of Siena. “His treatment thus far has been absolutely successful— now when you see Omar, a boy who used to hold his head down in shame of what others thought of him— is now all smiles and all he exudes is confidence,” said Dr. Kiridly.

Photo (L-R): Thomas Armocida, PA, and Plastic/Reconstruction Surgeon Nabil Kiridly, MD.

One of the operating room nurses continued her mission after hours as well. Kelly Regan took Omar into her home to provide round the clock post-operative care for two weeks. Her responsiveness to assist someone in need reigns with that of the CHS mission.

"As a Catholic hospital, we are guided by our mission-driven purpose to provide healing to all walks of life—this is just one of the many examples of the charitable work St. Catherine of Siena is committed too," said St. Catherine' Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Paul J. Rowland. "Our administrative team is exceedingly proud of the spirit of our employees to be vigilant and available to help meet the needs of others while at work and even on vacation."

In December 2014, as Omar’s mother Patricia sat in the waiting room for the physician who so generously donated his time and expertise, she smiled in relief, knowing his life is now removed of the pain that used to smother his confidence. The two of them took their camera and captured photos of one another gloriously, smiling from ear to ear. Omar's story is not a miracle; it is the realization of mission-driven work at its finest.

Preparations have been made for Omar to remain in New York with extended family, where he will be able to continue to follow-up with Dr. Kiridly, attend school—no longer in fear, but with youthful enthusiasm, excitement, and the most confident smile.

For more information about St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, please call (631) 870-3444.