Stony Brook Medicine Team Provides Lifesaving Treatment for Galapagos Island Residents

Trip to Galapagos Islands saves one resident’s sight, impacts 100s of others

A resident of the Galapagos Islands will be forever grateful that he attended a lecture given by a Stony Brook Medicine surgeon that proved to be lifesaving.

Galo Del Heirro attended the lecture in March about skin cancer screening and prevention given by Alexander B. Dagum, MD, Chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Stony Brook Medicine. Dr. Dagum was visiting the Galapagos Islands with a team of Stony Brook Medicine doctors and staff from the non-profit organization Blanca’s House to provide free skin cancer screenings.

Galo, who works for the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos, attended the lecture, but had not taken part in skin cancer screenings offered earlier to the community. At the end of the presentation, Galo approached Dr. Dagum and showed him a pigmented lesion he had on his right eyelid for several years. Dr. Dagum suggested he have a biopsy of the lesion.

Daniel Lozeau, MD, a Stony Brook Medicine dermatologist and pathologist, performed the biopsy and examined the pathology. Galo was told he had a malignant melanoma in a very delicate area around that eye that is difficult to excise.

“Galo’s experience is the perfect example of why it is so important to be screened by a dermatologist every year,” said Dr. Lozeau. “Our team is thrilled that we were able to intervene in Galo’s case. Skin cancer — particularly melanoma — can turn into a deadly condition once it spreads to organs.”

Unfortunately, the surgery could not be done in the Galapagos or in nearby Ecuador. Dr. Dagum received clearance to perform the surgery as a teaching case at Stony Brook University Hospital. With that approval and help from the Darwin Foundation and Blanca’s House, Galo came to Stony Brook in the spring. Dr. Dagum and his colleagues removed the lesion in full around his eyelid. They also reconstructed skin around the eyelid so Galo could see properly and blink normally. He had a second procedure to adjust the eyelid.

“The outlook for Galo is very bright. We expect Galo to live a full and normal life,” said Dr. Dagum. “But because of the nature of Galo’s melanoma lesion, he does have to be diligent about getting screened every year and have his eyelid area examined periodically.”

In addition to the medical care provided to Galo, the Stony Brook Medicine team worked alongside local doctors and Bianca House staff to screen more than 300 individuals. The team chose this location because the residents live so close to the equator and have difficulty accessing care because of the terrain. Over a 5-day period, 28 procedures were completed.

On June 27, before heading back to the Galapagos to resume his busy life with his wife and children, Galo had a final appointment with Dr. Dagum to check the eyelid and its healing. The prognosis is excellent.

Through tears, Galo’s wife expressed her appreciation for the care her husband received from the Stony Brook team. “My husband is very important to me and my children,” she said. “Thank you for taking such good care of him.”

This is just one of the international trips that the Stony Brook Medicine team makes annually in conjunction with Blanca’s House. In addition, Stony Brook Medicine doctors provide free skin cancer screenings locally in Suffolk County every year. 

Marissa Ayasse, a fourth-year medical student in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, felt the trip was extremely rewarding. 

“My role as a medical student was to organize the clinic and work with patients in triage,” explained Marissa. “I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such inspiring physicians who donated their time and resources to be a part of this volunteer work.”
“We expect to offer lifesaving treatment when we go to these remote locations,” said Dr. Dagum. “What we didn’t expect was to bring a patient back to Stony Brook for surgery. We’re grateful to all the organizations involved that assisted us in offering the best possible care to these individuals.” 

To learn more:
Ask the Expert: Know About the Dark Side of the Sun
Stony Brook Medicine’s Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Stony Brook Medicine’s Department of Dermatology 
Blanca’s House 

Photo caption of the Stony Brook Medicine team with Galo: Daniel Lozeau, MD, Galo Del Heirro, Alexander Dagum, MD, Marissa Ayasse and Richard Scriven, MD. Not pictured: Stony Brook Medicine dermatologists Tara Kaufmann, MD, and Yoojin Lee, MD, and Mohs surgeon Jordan Slutsky, MD.