A football-sized mystery growth on his head had made it impossible for Ivan-Joe Leo to crawl, speak or even sit up. It was not only restricting the quality of his life –he had to be carried around everywhere by his mother and his life seemed ready to be cut short: before Dr. Chris Xenos, a neurosurgeon, saved him with a series of operations at Monash Children’s Hospital.
Xenos’ skill and that of a team of doctors got the fluid-filled lump safely removed, giving the boy a chance at an ordinary life. Xenos said Ivan-Joe had probably suffered a fractured skull, called a traumatic cranial encephalocoele, during a difficult labor in Papua, New Guinea.
Excess fluid built up on the child’s brain and the fluid began to leak into the lump. By the time he was six months old the tennis ball-sized lump had doubled in size. And it kept growing to the extent that even Ivan-Joe’s three-year old brother was afraid to look at his disfigured sibling.
Her mother couldn’t afford the surgery, but luckily enough Ivan-Joe was brought to Australia through Moira Kelly’s Children First Foundation. The Australian charity organized their flights, visa and passport, and co-ordinated efforts with the hospital, which provided a humanitarian bed and its services at no cost.
Xenos improved the fluid circulation so as to divert the fluid from the child’s brain and then he and plastic surgeon Charles Baillieu began the process of sealing his brain and rebuilding his skull. Ivan-Joe spent weeks recovering from the operation and fought off fevers and an infection but has recovered. “He is moving, playing and speaking, and I think his long-term future is very good,” Xenos said.