Healing . . . at last

| July 19, 2013 | 0 Comments

Fourth back surgery the charm for Venezuelan teen

Greicys Ramos-Rivas, right, and her mom Gregoria, left, are staying with Cameron Perra, center, while Greicys recouperates from her spinal surgery. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Greicys Ramos-Rivas, right, and her mom Gregoria, left, are staying with Cameron Perra, center, while Greicys recouperates from her spinal surgery. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

It’s a small world, and no one knows and appreciates that more than Greicys Ramos-Rivas.

Greicys (pronounced “Gracie”), 17, had been living with debilitating scoliosis for several years — enduring the pain of three failed surgeries in her home country of Venezuela.

But her pain will soon be gone thanks to a local college student and his family’s medical connections.

Cameron Perra, a 2011 graduate of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul and now a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spent his first year after high school teaching English at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ mission in Venezuela: Jesucristo Resucitado.

While working at the parish, Cameron got to know the parish secretary, Gregoria Ramos-Rivas, Greicys’ mom.

“The whole family really welcomed me,” Cameron said. “They would invite me over for lunch or dinner a lot.”

He hung out with Greicys in her mom’s office. “She could walk a little and sit, but eventually she would just have to lie down and rest because she was in so much pain,” Cameron said.

Just as they welcomed Cameron, the Ramos-Rivas family welcomed his parents, Jerry and Eileen Perra, when they came to the mission for Easter, inviting them for dinner.

Jerry is an orthopedic surgeon and recognized Greicys’ rapidly worsening condition. He asked to see the X-rays from her last surgery and, after studying them, decided to send them to his brother Joe, a spinal surgeon in the Twin Cities.

Financial hardship

Before they ever met the Perra family, Gregoria and her husband Gustavo had spent their life savings on back surgeries for Greicys, even cashing out Gregoria’s retirement benefits.

“One night, [Greicys] woke up and couldn’t move,” said Father Greg Schaffer, a priest of the archdiocese who serves at the Venezuela mission in the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana. “When she woke up paralyzed that day, they came to the parish to get a loan. And, [Gregoria] cashed in her retirement benefits. She’s been working for the parish for 25 years. So, she’s been accruing retirement benefits, and she cashed most of that in to have the second surgery because they couldn’t wait any longer. They couldn’t do it at a public hospital, so they had to pay at a private hospital. That cleaned out their savings.”

Cameron and his family thought they could help Greicys, and started pooling ­resources. Joe agreed to do the surgery and his wife Sherry, who works for a spinal hardware company, got her company to donate the rods and screws needed for the surgery.

Jerry also contacted Deacon Stephen Koop, head of surgery at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. Koop’s son, Father Evin Koop, spent time at the mission in Venezuela and knew Gregoria and Greicys. Deacon Koop was able to get the hospital to donate its services.

Members of the Venezuela Mission Group at St. Joseph parish in Waconia also helped with some of the expenses of the trip, Father Schaffer said. A friend of his donated the airfare.

“All these pieces came together on the medical side,” Cameron said. “And there have just been a lot of different connections and people coming together to make it happen. The small-world aspect of things has been very interesting . . . and awesome.”

A long road

Getting Greicys and her mom to Minnesota for the surgery proved to be complicated and sometimes frustrating. The biggest hurdle was getting them visas to leave Venezuela and come to the U.S.

“The process is pretty arduous and frustrating,” Cameron said. “They had to take three separate trips to Caracas [the capital]. It’s a 10- to 12-hour bus ride and it’s fairly dangerous,” he said.

Jerry had to write letters to the American consulate there and explain every detail of the planned trip.

When Greicys and her mom finally arrived in the United States, they were able to stay for a while with friends from their town in Venezuela that now live in Wisconsin.

They also stayed for a few days with Father Schaffer’s parents.

“My mom calls it the Catholic connection,” Cameron said. “The Catholics here in the Twin Cities and in the mission in Venezuela, all these things coming together, a huge part of it has been the Church.”

“What I really enjoy,”?he said, “is that it’s people from all over the world, all over the country and all over the Twin Cities that have come together because they recognize a good cause, and they recognize how they can make an important and drastic change in someone’s life. And, it’s facilitated by the Church.”

Ready for surgery

Before the surgery, Gregoria and Greicys met with Joe, and he explained the surgery and answered their questions. “I was really nervous before we came,” said Gregoria through Cameron. “But once we got here and I met the doctors I felt much better.”

After asking many questions about the surgery, Greicys had one last question. “When will I be able to wear high heels?” she asked, knowing that was something she could never have done before.

He told her it won’t be long. “She was very happy about that,” Cameron said. “She actually clapped her hands.”

Joe performed the surgery July 1 and Jerry and Deacon Koop assisted. It was the first time brothers Joe and Jerry, both surgeons in the Twin Cities, had done a surgery together.

“That was just kind of a fun thing for them to do that together.” Cameron said.

Greicys is recovering at Cameron’s home in Hastings while his mom, a nurse, keeps an eye on her progress.

“Considering what she’s been through, she’s doing really well,” Eileen Perra said.

Greicys’ mom is happy with her daughter’s progress, too. “Time and the love of God will make her better,” Gregoria said.

Greicys is hoping to start college in Venezuela in September and is looking forward to someday getting married and having a family.

The two will return to Venezuela in early August, escorted by a group of seminarians who will be staying at the mission.

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Category: Local News