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Journey from Haiti to Mass Eye and Ear and Back for Rare Eye Cancer

Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Widerson Mompremier began a treatment journey for a rare eye cancer that brought him to Boston as a toddler, and forged a lasting connection with Mass Eye and Ear.

A child from Haiti who received treatment from Mass Eye and Ear as a toddler returned to the hospital more than a decade later for a follow-up visit with the same medical team who provided life-changing care.

Widerson Mompremier at age 3 in 2010.

Widerson Mompremier was only 3 years old when the Haiti earthquake struck in 2010. At the time Laurel Coleman, MD, a Hawaii-based geriatric/palliative care physician, was on a mission trip to a remote village in Haiti called Soufriere when she came across Widerson. She recognized he had an often-cancerous eye condition called leukocoria or “white pupil,” and she took him to the local hospital. Dubbed Widerson’s “surrogate mom,” she arranged for him to come to the United States for care and connected with her former classmate, Mass Eye and Ear head and neck surgeon Daniel Deschler, MD for a recommendation. Dr. Deschler in turn connected her with his colleague at Mass Eye and Ear, Shizuo Mukai, MD, who is an expert in treating these conditions. After Dr. Mukai’s team met Widerson, they diagnosed him with retinoblastoma and then immediately started a treatment plan that included mobilizing colleagues within the Mass General Brigham system.  

Rare eye cancer that requires immediate care

Retinoblastoma is a very rare condition, one that Dr. Mukai has been passionate about throughout his career. He has seen about 100 cases in his 30 years in the field and has conducted research on these cancers, which most often are caused by genetic mutations. 

“This genetic condition affects 1 in 20,000 births, with only 250-300 cases per year in the U.S.,” said Dr. Mukai. “The gene for this disease was actually found here at Mass Eye and Ear in 1986 by Dr. Thaddeus Dryja.”  

Widerson Mompremier (center) during his first visit to Mass Eye and Ear with  Shizuo Mukai MD (right) after his surgery for a rare pediatric eye cancer.
Widerson Mompremier (center) during his first visit to Mass Eye and Ear in 2010 with Shizuo Mukai MD (right) after his surgery for a rare pediatric eye cancer.

Dr. Mukai removed Widerson’s eye, but Dr. Dryja and the late Frederick A. Jakobiec, MD, expert pathologists at Mass Eye and Ear, worked with Dr. Mukai to determine that Widerson’s tumor had progressed enough and spread outside the eye to need further radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

Dr. Mukai arranged these treatments with colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital – a radiation oncologist Shannon MacDonald, MD, and pediatric oncologist Eric Grabowski, MD.

Dr. Mukai noted that 30 years ago in days of Rolodexes, there was a retinoblastoma card he created that had all the contact numbers of different colleagues who his medical staff knew to call right away when a child was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. That has long since gone digital to email, but the quick response remains in the same.

“They all know how urgent and rare this disease is, and are great collaborators,” said Dr. Mukai of his colleagues.

Dr. Mukai noted that this was an unusual case compared to others in his career, as international patients typically already have a diagnosis and their medical trip to the U.S. is covered and supported by insurance through their government by the time they arrive.

Widerson did great with the treatment and through Dr. Coleman’s connections, was supported and stayed in Maine for several months during treatments. When those completed, he was fitted for a prosthetic eye before he returned home to Haiti.

Return to Mass Eye and Ear

Dr. Mukai (right) returns to Haiti in 2016 for an academic training mission to meet with Widerson (center) and his family six years after he performed surgery.

Years later, in 2016, Dr. Mukai was heading to Haiti on an academic training mission and had a chance to examine Widerson once again in Port-au-Prince at the Hôpital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haiti. Now 9 years old, Dr. Mukai felt Widerson needed a new prosthetic eye and oncology follow ups. Unfortunately he did not have a local care team in Haiti. Once again Dr. Coleman, Dr. Mukai and the team rallied around Widerson and after several years of visa setbacks, they were finally able to schedule another trip to Boston for him to receive care and a place to stay in the summer of 2022. He was able to have a full checkup including oncology, ophthalmology and a re-fitting of the prosthesis.

Thanks to the incredible collaboration of Widerson’s Boston team, he is able to live a healthy, full life now.

Widerson (left) and Dr. Mukai (right) during a follow-up visit to Mass Eye and Ear in July 2022.

4 thoughts on “Journey from Haiti to Mass Eye and Ear and Back for Rare Eye Cancer

  1. I appreciate the generosity of MEEI to sponsor the care and treatment for this young man from Haiti. MEEI and Dr. Mukai/Dr. Grabowski literally saved his life. Thank you.

  2. Flora Joseph-Francois

    As a Haitian and a MGH employee, words cannot express how thankful I am for Widerson and his parents for the opportunity to come to MGH in the US to receive the care. When reading this successful story, it’s motivated me more to be a committed employee to MGH. Thank you very much MGH for changing Widerson life.

    Flora Joseph-Francois

  3. Save a life. Save the world. Hope he will be inspired to follow the steps of those who contributed to make his life better. Thanks to all the team for your commitment!

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