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‘Project Ruben’ to help 5-year-old boy in Mexico
for the Sequim Gazette
Usually when Carol Labbe vacations at her timeshare in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, she sits on the beach and reads.
Without even looking up, Labbe, president of the Sequim Guild of Seattle Children’s Hospital, says “no gracias” to the vendors as they pass by and try to sell their wares to the tourists. But on a recent trip, Labbe was compelled to put down her novel, remove her reading glasses and engage in a conversation that she swears she’ll remember for the rest of her life.
Ruben Jimenez Felix approached Labbe with his woodcarvings of turtles, birds and fish. Being a crafter herself, Labbe was attracted to his work and initiated a conversation.
Felix told Labbe that his father taught him the art of wood crafting and how rewarding it is. They talked about the turtle protective reserve and what a wonderful difference the safe and secure system has made in the preservation of sea turtles.
Finally, Felix shared the story of his youngest son, Ruben Isaisas Jimenez Altamirando. Born with a condition called neurofibromatosis, Ruben very likely will never develop into a “normal” young man.
Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow in the nervous system and produce other abnormalities, such as skin changes and bone deformities. Surgery often is recommended to remove the tumors, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Tumors can impair vision, cause bone malformations and become cancerous.
“Just by looking into his eyes, I could see that he was genuine and really cared,” Labbe said about Felix.
“It was at that point that I knew his son, little Ruben, had fallen through the cracks just like so many others had before him.”
The next day, Felix brought his wife, 5-year-old Ruben and Ruben’s older brother to the timeshare.
“What a beautiful polite child,” Labbe described. “Very shy at first, but soon we were talking and smiling at each other.”
“I felt so blessed to meet him,” she continued. “Little Ruben told me he didn’t like to go to school because the other students made fun of his face. How can you respond to that? When I talked to some of the others, we decided that we would make something happen for little Ruben.”
With the help of fellow Seattle Children’s Hospital guild members, a plastic surgeon — Dr. Miguel Sladana Salas, who is a resident of Canada but lives in Puerto Vallarta for most of the year — has agreed to donate his surgical skills.
Even with Salas’ aid, though, surgical, hospital, medicine and tests costs are expected to be $30,000 — a price tag completely out of Felix’s budget. Labbe took it upon herself to contact 20 charities nationwide but most of their responses were that they only help children in the U.S.
So, Labbe turned to the most generous community she knows: Sequim. The community has donated more than $2,000 so far, she said. Seven hundred dollars already has been used toward Ruben’s first MRI.
“There should not be any ‘borders’ when it comes to children,” Labbe said fervently. “They are our future (and) this is indeed an international project that could help make the difference in the life of this child.”
With the proper medical care and surgery, it’s likely that Ruben will grow up to lead a normal and healthy life, Labbe said.
“Little Ruben will grow up to become a doctor or a dentist or a vet,” she said. “What goes around comes around and Ruben will be the one who will help the people in ‘his country,’ I will guarantee it!”
The unconditional love of a father
From a cell phone in Puerto Vallarta, Felix describes his son with admiration and affection. The phone line crackles with distance but his message is crystal clear.
“He is a happy boy but a little introspective,” Felix said, a rooster crowing loudly in the background. “When we go out and meet new people, it’s hard for him.”
The tumor has grown so large that Ruben can no longer open his left eye without forcefully peeling the lids apart with his fingers. His skin is spotted brown like a leopard’s, his father said matter-of-factly.
The combination of facial distortion and mottled skin causes people to stop and stare at the little boy, Felix said. Their inquiring looks don’t go unnoticed by Ruben, either, who is becoming increasingly self-conscious.
After four years and three months of expensive doctors’ visits and medication, the family’s funds are depleted. But their attitudes remain optimistic, for Ruben’s sake if nothing else.
“It’s a process and I don’t know what will happen,” Felix said, “but he’s my little boy and means everything to me, so we just keep praying.”
Felix works two jobs and spends every bit of his free time searching for answers and treatments regarding Ruben’s condition.
Ruben first started showing symptoms at 8 months old. His parents noticed that one of his eyes seemed to bulge out while the other appeared small. Though they’d been thinking of further expanding the family of four, they decided to hold off on having any more children until Ruben received a clean bill of health. That day, unfortunately, has yet to come.
Help Ruben and win a vacation to remember
Vacation Internationale has donated six vacation packages to their resorts located in Whistler, British Columbia; Maui, Hawaii; Sedona, Ariz.; Orlando, Fla.; Ocean Shores, Wash.; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; and more — for a raffle to raise money for Ruben.
Each trip is valued up to $1,050. Raffle tickets cost only $10.
Winning vacation packages include two certificates at seven nights; one certificate at five nights; and three certificates at three nights.
The five-night package in Puerto Vallarta, located directly on the beach, has a pool, bar, restaurant, complete kitchen and can accommodate up to four people.
More information is available at www.viresorts.com.