It began as a fun, relaxing trip. In 2016, the Alwosaifers were visiting Massachusetts from their home country of Saudi Arabia. It should have been an idyllic summer vacation — but then their youngest child, Faysal, got sick. What started as a stomachache soon worsened until the 12-year-old collapsed with severe abdominal pain.
After arriving at the emergency department at Boston Children’s Hospital, Faysal’s parents learned that their son had experienced volvulus, a life-threatening disorder in which the intestines twist, cutting off blood supply to the small bowel. Despite the frightening diagnosis, the initial outcome was positive — at first. “We were told he didn’t need surgery,” remembers his father, Naser. “I was so happy that I hugged the doctor.”
But there was a caveat. The doctor warned the family that the volvulus would likely recur and eventually require a surgical intervention. In fact, Faysal was only back in Saudi Arabia for a few months when it happened again. He underwent three procedures to remove the diseased portion of his intestine.
When it came time to reconnect his terminal ileum (the end of the small intestine) to his rectum, however, clinicians hesitated. Faysal had lost weight during his illness and they worried that he didn’t have enough remaining tissue to complete the operation. “I decided to be proactive,” says Naser. “I began contacting hospitals in the United States to see if he qualified for an intestinal transplant, as his local doctors thought.”
By the time Faysal arrived at a hospital in New York, he was even sicker. In addition to his gastrointestinal woes, he had developed vesicoureteral reflux and his kidney function was dwindling. But there was good news, too: Doctors informed the Alwosaifers that Faysal wouldn’t need an intestinal transplant after all and just needed to fix the reflux.
While surgery resolved his urinary problems, the reconnection procedure — technically called an ileorectal anastomosis — was less successful. It seemed that Faysal was out of options until a doctor pulled Naser aside. “He recommended that we see Dr. Belinda Dickie in the Colorectal and Pelvic Malformation Center at Boston Children’s,” he says.
‘Everything is so different’
When they reached they Boston Children’s Hospital and met Dr. Dickie, the family was impressed by her confidence — and she assured them that she believed she could treat their son. “Other doctors we had seen seemed confused and overwhelmed by Faysal’s condition,” says Naser. “But Dr. Dickie wasn’t fazed at all. She’s very intelligent, very brave.”
True to her word, the ileorectal anastomosis was a success. As Faysal, who also saw Dr. Leonel Rodriguez, recovered, his father marveled at the care he received. “Everything here is so different,” says Naser. “You feel like you’re the only one in the hospital, like the focus is completely on your child.”
It’s now been two months since the surgery, and Faysal is preparing to return home to Saudi Arabia, where local doctors will take over his follow-up care. “Your job now is to eat,” Dr. Dickie tells him. “We want to you to get your weight back on.” He smiles and nods in agreement.
“She’s been more than a doctor to him,” says his father. “He loves to play games, and she did that — she treats him more like her child than like a job. We haven’t seen that anywhere else.”
Learn about the Colorectal and Pelvic Malformation Center.