Two South Florida health professionals have started a GoFundMe on behalf of Djooly Jeune, a Haitian teen diagnosed with advanced Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The fund was launched after the Miami Herald profiled Jeune’s ordeal — along with that of another teen, Djonsly Alcin, 14 — in its recent Cancer in Haiti series in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
The oldest of five children, Jeune first became ill in August 2017. But he wasn’t diagnosed until May after five doctors and dentists had failed to diagnose Burkitt’s, and instead told Jeune and his mother, Angena Altidor, that he was suffering from a dental problem. When his tumor became large enough to disfigure him, he was kicked out of school—followed by his 14-year-old sister—because the director believed he would infect other students.
The fund is seeking to raise $30,000 to help Jeune, 18, get treatment for his cancer, which did not respond to an initial round of chemotherapy that was administered in Haiti.
Martha Pearson, a Baptist Health nurse who has been helping the teen on her own, and Dr. Roger Mixter, a Wisconsin plastic surgeon who volunteers in Haiti and has consulted on the case, are both exploring several possibilities to help. This includes either getting pro bono care donated for Jeune in Miami, or treating him in Haiti with purchased or donated chemotherapy drugs that are stronger than the treatment he has already received.
“I am crying every single day,” said Pearson. “He’s in pain. He’s desperate. He’s hopeless.”
The mother of two teenagers, Pearson said she feels compelled to help: “I am in a position to help him and save his life. I feel I need to do something to give him a chance.”
Pearson started the GoFundMe with Linda Dwyer, patient coordinator for Living Hope Haiti Christian Mission in Haiti. A South Florida resident, Dwyer has been volunteering with the care of Djonsly, who also is battling cancer, stage 4 optic pathway glioma, but was flown to Miami earlier this year for treatment.
“If everyone I know gives $5, it can save his life,” said Dwyer, a mother of three who met Jeune earlier this year with Pearson during a medical mission trip to Haiti. “If my baby were dying, I would hope that people would help save my baby instead of buying an overpriced coffee.”
Both Dwyer and Pearson say it pains them to see that despite six chemotherapy sessions at the University Hospital of Mirebalais in Haiti, Jeune is not getting better but worse.
Last week, Jeune’s mother, Altidor, texted Pearson from Haiti to say that Jeune “can barely eat because the tumor is growing inside the mouth and the face is getting bigger.”
In an interview with the Herald, Altidor said life is a daily struggle, from getting Djooly back and forth to the Mirebalais Hospital, which is about two hours from her Croix-des-Bouquets home, to putting food on the table.
“I don’t have anyone in my family who is helping me,” she said. “It’s only me and God. And I feel embarrassed. I don’t like to beg, or keep having to beg.”
In children in the U.S., Burkitt’s lymphoma has a high long-term survival rate — 80 to 90 percent. But that requires prompt and aggressive chemotherapy.
While Jeune’s prognosis remains guarded, Mixter, who volunteers at the Mirebalais Hospital, is hoping to give him a shot at survival. If the teen is unable to travel to the U.S., Mixter is trying to see if doctors at the Mirebalais Hospital will agree to administer a new mix of chemo to Jeune and also manage the side effects.
“We have to find solutions in country,” Mixter said.