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‘Project Ruben’ proves a success
for the Sequim Gazette
About six months ago, Sequim resident Carol Labbe organized Project Ruben to help raise funds for a young boy in Mexico.
Ruben Isaisas Jimenez Altamirando, 5, was born with a condition called neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder causing tumors to grow in the nervous system and produce abnormalities such as skin changes and bone deformities. It was very unlikely Ruben would develop into a “normal” young man without medical intervention.
With the help of her fellow Sequim Guild of Seattle Children’s Hospital volunteers, Labbe raised $8,500 from the Sequim community to give to Ruben’s family. On Sept. 12, Ruben underwent a six-hour surgery to remove a tumor that caused him to lose sight in his left eye.
“It was a lot larger and more invasive than they ever thought,” Labbe said.
The tumor didn’t appear to be cancerous, Labbe relayed, but was sent off to biopsy just in case.
Ruben was released from the hospital Thursday, Sept. 22, after 17 days. With the exception of a minor problem with his eyelid opening and closing, possibly a complication from the tumor, he’s in good health and even has returned to school.
“Ruben is doing great and is happy with his face,” Labbe reported. “I’ve been told he takes every opportunity he can to look at himself and thinks his scar makes him look tough and rugged.”
The best news of the day, Labbe said, was hearing that Ruben regained sight in his left eye. To celebrate the successful surgery, Labbe plans to visit the family in Mexico this fall.
“I am so excited I can hardly stand it,” she said. “I already have a suitcase waiting in the hall filled with Levi jeans, cargo pants, activity books, ‘Life is Good’ pajamas, baseball caps and more, all for Ruben. I think his suitcase is heavier than mine.”
Members of the guild will host a dinner celebration for Ruben and his family and a surprise birthday party for the boy’s sixth birthday in November.
“It will be a celebration of life all around,” Labbe said.
Labbe, president of the Sequim Guild of Seattle Children’s Hospital, met Ruben while vacationing at her time share in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Instantly after meeting him, she began brainstorming ways to help the boy and his family, who couldn’t afford the surgery to correct Ruben’s condition.
Symptoms show up early
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 expanding the family of four, they decided to hold off on having any more children until Ruben received a clean bill of health.
By the time he was 5, Ruben’s tumor had grown so large that he no longer could open his left eye without forcefully peeling the lids apart with his fingers. The combination of facial distortion and mottled skin from the disease caused people to stop and stare at the boy.
Ruben’s father, Ruben Jimenez Felix, said the inquiring looks didn’t go unnoticed by the child; he started becoming very self-conscious and withdrawn.
Labbe describes Ruben as “a beautiful polite child” who is “very shy at first.”
“I felt so blessed to meet him,” she said in a previous interview. “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.”
Because the surgeon, Dr. Miguel Saldaña Salas, a resident of Canada living in Puerto Vallarta, agreed to donate his surgical expertise, a chunk of money remains and will be used to help the family pay for follow-up care and possibly long-term medicine to prevent the tumor from returning.
Labbe remains convinced that Ruben will grow up to do great things as a result of this second chance at life. She predicts he’ll probably become a doctor or a veterinarian.
“What goes around comes around and Ruben will be the one who will help people in his country,” she said earlier. “I guarantee it!”