News / Europe

Romanian Girl Gets Life-Altering Surgery

Romanian Andrea Nemethi, 12, speaks with Doctor Aaron Fay, a surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
Romanian Andrea Nemethi, 12, speaks with Doctor Aaron Fay, a surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

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Kimberly Bookman

At age 4, a Romanian girl was horrified when her right eye began to swell.  Doctors in Andrea Nemethi's homeland told her family she had an inoperable tumor and gave her months to live.  But the diagnosis turned out to be wrong.  As she grew up, the tumor - although benign - continued to grow out.  When it was bigger than a mango, Nemethi flew across the ocean for life altering surgery in Boston, where surgeons removed the tumor and her right eye.

This may look like a normal fitting for eyeglasses.  But for this 12-year old Romanian girl, it's monumental.

"She was different than other children and people behaved differently as well," said her father, Peter Nemethi.

At first, Andrea Nemethi's face wasn't flat enough for glasses.  A rare tumor behind her right eyeball swelled so much, the tumor and eyeball protruded from the socket.

"To give you an idea, I think the tumor was, maybe, probably bigger than most oranges that you see, maybe like two oranges," said Doctor Aaron Fay, a surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.  "You know, it was a pretty big thing and certainly much too big to fit inside an eye socket."

The tumor was discovered in 2002, when Andrea was 4 years old.  Although it was benign, doctors in Romania delivered grim news.  The family was told it was inoperable.

At school, the bulging tumor made Andrea self-conscious and shy. One of her teachers reached out to foreign doctors for help.

Camille Condon, Director of International Programs at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, received the request just one week after this man died.  Ray Tye was a Boston philanthropist who was dedicated to helping children get the surgeries they needed, by paying for them.

"His passion came from his son who died, I believe of cancer," said Condon.  "And he was devastated that all the money in the world couldn't save his son, and therefore, for his son, he was going to save other lives."

The hospital decided to memorialize Tye by performing a surgery he would have supported.  They chose Andrea.

Dr. Fay, operating for seven hours, was able to save Andrea's eyelid, eye muscles and socket. He removed the tumor and Andrea's eye.

Camelia Rosca, Andrea's host in Boston, says coming to America has transformed the young girl and her family.   

"When you see people care about your child's life, it's been tremendous for the family and for Andrea," said Rosca. "She now behaves just like any pre-teenage girl."

The pre-teen now feels better about herself.  Andrea needs two more procedures before she heads home.

When she goes back to Romania, she says she'll never forget the kindness of strangers.  They too are transformed.

"You know it's quite an emotional experience for me," added Dr. Fay.

Those former strangers say Andrea won a place in their hearts.

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