The teenager will be going home for the holidays.

MIAMI (December 19, 2006) – “Thank you” were the first words pronounced by Haitian adolescent, Marlie Casseus, when the tracheotomy she had since arriving in Miami, a year ago, was finally removed three weeks ago. Today, while still trying to get used to the sound of her own voice, she wanted to personally thank everyone in Miami, the United States and the world that was moved by her case and contributed so she may be able to go to Haiti for Christmas as a new person filled with hope and a desire to live.

Exactly a year ago, the International Kids Fund (IKF), a program of the Jackson Memorial Foundation, urgently called upon the community to raise the necessary funds for Marlie’s treatment. At that time, she was afflicted by a 16-pound tumor on her face, which only allowed her eyes, a tooth, and nostrils to be recognized, while rendering her unable to breathe, speak and eat on her own.

“This is a very special day for us, a cause for great satisfaction, because Marlie is a living example that people’s generosity can go a long way in transforming a person’s life. We would like to thank everyone from around the world, and especially the South Florida community, without it, we would have not gotten here,” said an emotional María Luisa Chea, director of the IKF. “Today Marlie is a happy person that greets and talks to everyone. Her greatest wishes are to go back home and celebrate Christmas with her family and get her life back.”

The mass Marlie had on her face was brought about by a genetic condition known as Polyostotic Fibrous Dysplasia, characterized by uneven growth, pain, brittleness and deformity of the affected bones. During this year, a team of doctors led by Jesús Gómez, maxillofacial surgeon from the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, carried out four operations to extract the mass from the adolescents face and reconstruct her nose and mouth, and correcting her hipertelorism or extreme separation of the eyes.

“We have accomplished everything we set out to do a year ago. It is very satisfying for me as a professional and very emotional as a person to be able to see the physical and emotional progress Marlie has made,” said Dr. Gómez. “At the moment we will not perform any other surgeries. This stage is complete, but from a distance, we will continue monitoring her progress. We will wait a couple of years for her skull to finish growing; it will be at that moment where we will evaluate the esthetic and functional plan.”

Since Marlie will need to return to Miami to initiate the functional phase of her treatment, the IKF continues to seek the support of the community to perform the pending procedures she will need.

Marlie and her mother, Maleine Antoine, will return home on time for Christmas Day, where all her family which they speak to almost on a daily basis will be waiting to meet the new Marlie. “When I heard my daughter say ‘thank you’ while I was hugging Dr. Gómez, I felt overwhelming emotions and happiness. I did not stop thanking God,” said Maleine. “Our family wants to thank each and every one of the people that have helped Marlie. A year ago her face was deformed, today she is human again. This, without a doubt, will be the best Christmas ever.”