It was April 2010, in the midst of the devastation of the Haitian earthquake, when a young man named Tassy Fils-aime turned to Ian Rosenberger and asked, “Can you help me?”
A tumor the size of a tennis ball was growing on Tassy’s face, and leaving it untreated could mean he would no longer be able to eat. Rosenberger of Pittsburgh, a former star of the CBS reality show “Survivor,” had gone to Haiti to work in the earthquake relief effort. Tassy touched Rosenberger’s heart, and he knew he had to do something.
Today, thanks to the cooperation and compassion of Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), Rosenberger, his friend Laura Kelly and a group of caring people known as Team Tassy, Tassy’s tumor has been removed and he is headed home to Haiti on Thursday. He will return in summer for dental implant surgery at AGH.
AGH otolaryngologist James Blaugrund, MD, and plastic surgeon Michael White, MD, performed an eight-hour surgical procedure to remove Tassy’s tumor on Nov. 15. The surgeons volunteered their services at no cost. Through Rosenberger and Team Tassy’s efforts, more than $35,000 was raised toward Tassy’s costs and other expenses associated with his surgery.
While the world’s attention has largely drifted away from the crisis in Haiti, the aftereffects of the catastrophic Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake are still being felt there. According to UNICEF, more than 1 million people remain displaced, living in crowded camps under substandard living conditions.
However the great people of Pittsburgh and doctors at Allegheny General Hospital continue to reach out and change lives in the devastated country of Haiti.
“In Haiti, young people like Tassy don’t get the kind of medical care that we take for granted in the United States,” Rosenberger said. “I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of Drs. Blaugrund and White, AGH, and so many individuals who made donations big and small. I can tell you that Tassy is very happy and very grateful for all that has been done on his behalf.”
Dr. Blaugrund, who has made several trips to Haiti to help people injured in last year’s earthquake, said the work is often frustrating due to the lack of basic medical supplies and the destruction of buildings and infrastructure.
“To help just one person is not enough, but it’s a start,” Dr. Blaugrund said. “We are happy to have been able to give Tassy a chance at a long and healthy life and hope this will again draw attention to the situation in Haiti and the need for continued assistance.”
“When Dr. Blaugrund told me Tassy’s story, I was happy to do what I could to help,” Dr. White said. “It’s been very rewarding to see him looking so well, smiling, and making plans for a long future ahead.”
Tassy has stayed with Rosenberger in Pittsburgh since his surgery in November and plans to return home to Haiti this week. He’s participated in a variety of activities, including attending Pittsburgh Penguins games and visiting Disney World, and has grown to love both Pittsburgh and the U.S.
Rosenberger credits the work of Kelly, a tourism professional who hails from Altoona, and Team Tassy, as critical in helping Tassy. From Rosenberger and Kelly the group grew to include friends, co-workers, relatives and even Rosenberger’s grade school English teacher. They stayed nights at the hospital, raised money, cooked, bought presents, provided English tutoring and took Tassy to see local sights.
“Team Tassy is Tassy’s family in the U.S.,” Rosenberger said. “They’ll help us find Tassy a school back home, get ready for college and raise money for our new endowment. Where Tassy goes, Team Tassy follows.”
To learn more about Tassy, about Rosenberger’s work in Haiti and how you can help, visit www.meettassy.org.