Seryozhka

Within the framework of The Moscow Times' program "Create Yourself," we have started a series of publications about people who, despite having serious health problems, have been able to find the power and desire to live and grow. Some of them have achieved things that even healthy people can only dream of. Here are two of them -- the others you can read at www.sotvorisebya.ru

The Create Yourself section did not involve the reporting or the editorial staff of The Moscow Times.

This story begins on Oct. 3, 1997, in a small northern town when her first child was born -- a son. The mother and father anxiously awaited his birth, made plans, and dreamed about what he would become. But the first sign of trouble came with the child's first scream. The doctors firmly gave their verdict: He suffered from anophtalmia (the lack of an eyeball) in one eye and an underdeveloped frontal lobe in the brain. This meant that the child would have no future -- if not complete retardation, then certainly a progressive, developmental lag. One doctor advised the young mother, "Why keep him? You're young. You'll give birth again."

But she pressed him against her chest and, still not understanding what the future might hold for them, brought him home. They named their son Seryozhka.

When the child was 2 weeks old, she and her husband were met with their first surprise. Seryozhka actively responded to everything around him, was noisy, cried and required attention. Basically, he was like any other child. And they began to hope that the doctors had been mistaken.

The lack of an eye didn't scare them; they could put in a prosthetic. But there soon was more trouble. By the third week, two blotches appeared on the cheek under Seryozhka's eye that looked like birthmarks or moles. Within a week the marks grew to the size of coins. By the time Seryozhka was 2 months old, his whole left cheek looked like one big bruise. The diagnosis: hemangioma.

At that exact point in time, I met the family. The first thing that came to mind was that we needed to take Seryozhka to Ernst Muldashev at the Russian Center for Eye Plastic Surgery. I had faith that they would think of something to help. But getting him there would be difficult; we didn't have a doctor's referral for the center or a prior agreement with the clinic. We just knew that we had to do something.

But my hope came true -- at the clinic they decided to take out the hemangioma and make a prosthetic. The operation lasted six hours. During the operation it became clear that instead of an eye he had a tumor. But it wasn't a problem -- the tumor was benign. They performed plastic surgery on his face. But most important, we needed to find out if Seryozhka was in danger of being mentally handicapped. After appointments with the neurosurgeon and the psychotherapists, they came to this conclusion: "He will never be an astronaut, but otherwise, he's as healthy as any other child."

And thus began the humdrum life of a small boy. He grew quickly and started to talk and walk early. Once a year he and his mom traveled to the clinic, where they regularly performed plastic surgery and replaced his prosthetic eye. It appeared that everything was great and that the local doctors' prognosis was incorrect. His mom was always around, dedicating all her time to Seryozhka. But only I know what it cost her to endure the unprofessionalism of the local doctors, when they should have written a referral for the operation at the clinic. But she survived it all.

She and I talked for a long time in the evenings, and I was constantly trying to convince her to have Seryozhka study English and music, and that he is a talented child. I was sure that if someone was deprived of proper physical development, God would certainly make up for it with unusual talent.

Seryozhka is now 11 years old. He is inquisitive and very active. He studies English, attends musical school and is a great student. Most important, he's not ashamed of his outward appearance. Although there are sometimes conflicts -- children will tease -- Seryozhka has learned to live with it and doesn't feel different from his peers. Yes, he will likely have countless more operations, each one causing him terrible pain and causing his mother unbearable suffering for her child's suffering, but they are together and they have proven the doctors wrong.