Some might consider it miraculous ... others, fate. But how the lives of Daniel Lozano, Mel Gibson and Mary Clarke intersected serendipitously at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is remarkable no matter how you look at it.
At the center of the story is Jose Daniel (Danny) Lozano, a teenager from Tijuana, Mexico who is recovering from reconstructive craniofacial surgery. Danny is one of many children who have received medical care made possible by a highly specialized medical team at Cedars-Sinai and a $5 million dollar gift to the hospital from actor/director Mel Gibson. Two years ago in December, Lozano met a member of the religious order founded by Mary Clarke (now known as Sister Antonia) at a village holiday party, and the sisters began searching to find the medical care he needed. The search ended at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills, where Clarke had lived before beginning her ministry in Tijuana 30 years ago.
The outcome of these coincidental events - Lozano's surgery - is likely to be "life-altering," according to Mark M. Urata, M.D., D.D.S, director of Craniofacial and Pediatric Plastic Surgery at Cedars-Sinai, and part of the team who participated in Danny's operation in early May.
"Danny had lost his right eye in a horrific accident in Mexico in 2000 and doctors there addressed it as best as they could at the time, but the way it healed left his face with a significant deficit," explained Urata. "The eye is such an important part of our body not only because of our vision but because we often focus on a person's eyes - so much poetry and music has been written about the look in someone's eyes. We wanted him to be able to remove the sunglasses and cap he'd worn since the accident to camouflage his looks and feel confident about his appearance."
The accident happened when Lozano joined some friends to play football then realized he didn't have his spiked shoes. He borrowed a friend's bicycle to retrieve them from home -- not realizing the bike didn't have brakes. He was halfway down a hill when he saw a taxicab approaching ... neither the driver nor Lozano was able to stop in time. As a result of the accident, he suffered extensive injuries to the right side of his skull. The stigma resulting from the deformity has prevented him from attending school for the past five years, so he's been teaching himself at home rather than face teasing and heckling from classmates.
His mother, Conchita Medina, had consulted with several physicians in Mexico following her son's initial surgery but was told that nothing further could be done to correct his deformity. Her eyes filled with tears of joy when Urata, who is an assistant professor of plastic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and a research assistant professor at the USC School of Dentistry, first examined Lozano and said, "I think we can make a difference and that difference may change your life."
Urata and Moise Danielpour, M.D., director of the Pediatric Neurosurgery Program at Cedars-Sinai's Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, carefully planned Lozano's surgery and worked side by side during the eight-hour operation on May 10.
"As in all secondary reconstructions, there was a lot of scar tissue that had to be removed initially and bleeding to be controlled," Danielpour explained. "The dura (dura mater: the outermost membrane covering the brain) was absent in much of the injured area, so I had to create a dural patch graft to protect the brain and to prevent spinal fluid from leaking. We reconstructed the cranium and the base of the skull to make it more prominent and anatomically correct, using a titanium plate that we molded and shaped to create a type of scaffolding. We then coated the scaffolding with a material made of hydroxyapatite (the primary mineral component of bone), commonly called 'bone paste' or 'bone cement' that functions much like bone."
Urata and Danielpour reconstructed Lozano's right eye socket to hold an eye prosthesis (which will be inserted within several months) and used a piece of bone that Urata harvested from his skull to reconstruct the bridge of the nose.
"Having little ones of my own, I can only try to imagine the ordeal that Danny and his family must have endured. Although we will never be able to take away the horrible things that have happened to him, I'm glad that we were able to help improve his quality of life," said Danielpour.
In 2004, Gibson donated a total of $10 million split evenly between Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California at Los Angeles to provide the respective hospitals with reimbursement for medical care to children from foreign countries who are unable to obtain medical care in their own countries. The children whose care is paid for by this donation are located and recommended by Mending Kids International. Mending Kids International arranges for visas, housing and transportation.
Both physicians are pleased with the outcome of the surgery and hope that it's going to be as "life-altering" as they think it will be. "What I've enjoyed most about this case has been seeing the way Danny interacts with his mother ... it's fabulous," Urata said. "She's a mother who can't do enough for her son and who wants him to live one day as a normal kid. It's a privilege to do this type of work. When you see the smile on the patient's face and the reaction of the family, you're happy."