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Saving Patrick: 4-year-old's journey and recovery

12:03 AM, Mar 2, 2011   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Sometimes, there is some good in goodbye.

"My stomach is in knots right now," says Kelli Tolle.

After four months in St. Louis, four-year-old Patrick Booker is going home. It's a 5,000 mile journey back to Liberia, but that doesn't seem so distant considering how far he's come.

"It's a happy time because he's going home healthy," says Tolle.

When Patrick arrived in St. Louis, he was fighting for his life.

"It was really just a matter of time that he was going to pass away," says Dr. Brad Warner of St. Louis Children's hospital.

Back in his home village, thinking it was water, he accidentally drank a Draino-like substance. His esophagus was so badly burned he could no longer eat. Doctors in Liberia had done all they could do.
On the other side of the world, Wentzville, Missouri's Corey Tolle heard about Patrick's plight from his partner.

"And he says, 'Would you happen to have any contacts in the medical field?'" says Corey.

Corey works for a company that does some mining business in Liberia and Patrick's story had been featured in a local newspaper there. Corey purchased the airline tickets, made arrangements with the US Embassy and St. Louis Children's Hospital and three weeks later, Patrick and his grandmother were in St. Louis. They got here just in time.

"When he arrived he was 19 pounds," says Corey.

Over the next two months, a feeding tube helped Patrick get strong enough for surgery - a surgery that Dr. Brad Warner agreed to perform for free.

"It touched me that someone really would die without doing something that I know how to do," says Dr. Warner.

The complicated surgery would take eight hours. Patrick's esophagus had to be removed and replaced with a section of colon.

Dr. Warner says he'd only performed the surgery a handful of times over the past 19 years. With a surgery like this, the only guarantee was that the waiting would be excruciating. But then, Dr. Warner emerged with the good news.

"He did perfect. Couldn't be better!" said Dr. Warner.

The only question now was would the recovery go as well? Less than two weeks after leaving the hospital, Patrick was leaving crumbs on his plate.

"There is no reason that he can't have a normal life after this," says Dr. Warner.

Christmas at the Tolle house turned out to be even more meaningful than usual. After all, Patrick and his grandmother are now part of the family.

"I can't imagine sending them back home," said an emotional Kelli Tolle. "I don't really want to think about that day."

It took good will to bring Patrick here and great will to let him go back. He and his grandmother arrived with just the shirts on their backs but go home with four suitcases stuffed with compassion.

"Clothing. Even food that we packed in there," Corey Tolle says.

The Tolle family isn't sure when they'll all meet again.

"We hope to go very soon. All of us," he says.

Meanwhile, something amazing happened when Patrick got home.  He's become a bit of a celebrity.

The owner of one of the private schools in Liberia (there is no public school system) wanted to meet Patrick and gave him nine years of free schooling and uniforms. This is an unbelievable gift when you consider only 15 percent of children in Liberia can even afford to go to school.

KSDK

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