— He takes long, hot showers, has developed a sweet tooth, calls his American hosts “Mom” and “Dad,” wrestles with the boy who sleeps below him in their bunk beds and plays on a trampoline with the other children who live in their spacious home on Springfield’s south side.
Satchian Basdeo also has gained 45 pounds and grown six inches in the almost nine months he has lived in Springfield.
Most important, Satchian, pronounced “SACH-yen,” can see and feel a completely sealed roof of his mouth, which allows him to eat, drink and talk like any other 11-year-old boy.
Satchian is talking much more these days in his Creole accent. He has become more outgoing. And though his speech isn’t perfect, it’s easier to understand him since the procedures at Memorial Medical Center in April and August to fix an unsuccessful cleft-palate repair that took place in his home country of Guyana.
With more procedures in his future, Satchian, who arrived in Springfield in February, said he is starting to miss his family in South America. But he is enjoying himself at the home of the American family that brought him here after meeting him during a church mission trip in a suburb of Georgetown, the Guyanese capital.
When asked if he was glad he came to Springfield for the life-altering surgeries, Satchian nodded several times. “It’s nice over here,” he said simply.
Kristen Ferguson, the Springfield Clinic doctor whom Satchian considers his adopted mother, estimated that the boy will have received $300,000 or more worth of donated services from Memorial and an array of local medical and dental professionals by the time his care is complete.
“There’s absolutely no way I could have afforded all of this,” said Ferguson, an emergency-medicine specialist who now treats occupational injuries. “A whole team of people have pitched in with Satchian and my journey.”
Ferguson met Satchian, then 10, when she was among about a dozen members of the Springfield First Church of the Nazarene who traveled to Guyana earlier this year to perform repairs at the Ruimveldt Children’s Aid Centre. The charity provides after-school educational enrichment and food, among other services, to low-income children in West Ruimveldt.
Ferguson, 39, who conducted health screenings while there, met Satchian and learned about the cleft-palate surgery that had been attempted on him two years earlier by a visiting Cuban doctor.
A cleft palate occurs when tissues in the roof of the mouth don’t grow together properly, leaving a gap and an opening into the nasal passages. The situation hampers a person’s ability to eat foods and make sounds.
A life-threatening infection following Satchian’s original surgery in Guyana resulted in a golf ball-sized hole reopening in the roof of his mouth.
In addition to the effects of infection, he developed dental problems because his cleft palate went unrepaired for so long. In the United States and other developed countries, most cleft palates are repaired within a year after birth.
Unable to arrange for another surgery in Guyana, Ferguson said she felt led by her faith to bring Satchian to Springfield, where she could attempt to use some of her connections in the medical community to assist him.
She worked with the U.S. embassy in Georgetown to secure a temporary U.S. visa for Satchian and arranged for him to be flown back to central Illinois with the rest of the Nazarene church members.
Her persistence was greeted with generosity. Surgery performed in April by two plastic surgeons from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine — Drs. Michael Neumeister and Reuben Bueno Jr. — repaired the hole in Satchian’s soft palate.
Surgery in August by Neumeister and oral surgeons Jordan Williams and Louis Scannura transferred bone from Satchian’s hip to his upper jaw to promote the growth of healthy tissue and sustain his upper teeth.
Several longstanding cavities were filled last week by dentist Brandon Maddox. And to realign his teeth, Satchian will be fitted in mid-November with braces by orthodontist C. William Groesch.
Satchian will need to wear braces for three years as part of $40,000 worth of treatment that Groesch is donating, Ferguson said.
In the end, Ferguson estimated she will pay $2,000 to $3,000 out of pocket for pathology and radiology services that weren’t donated. She can’t get any of Satchian’s medical care covered through her own insurance because he isn’t legally part of Ferguson’s family.
But it’s obvious that Satchian has been welcomed into the home Ferguson and her husband — heating and air conditioning technician Lucas Gebhardt — share with their three children.
“He’s a full-fledged sibling,” Ferguson said. “He’s a very happy kid. He’s a very hard worker.”
Added her mother, Bobella Glatz, “It’s just magnificent how he has fit in.”
Glatz, 67, who lives nearby, supervises the homeschooling of Ferguson and Gebhardt’s children, Brenden, 12, Elizabeth, 10, and Emily, 8, all of whom also participate in online classes as part of a curriculum the family pays for from FreedomProject Education.
Satchian, who has joined in the online curriculum, uses his own study area, complete with personal computer and printer, in a corner of the living room. So far, he is doing first-grade work. In the United States, he would be in fourth or fifth grade, but his education in Guyana was limited.
Ferguson said the details aren’t all clear, but it appears that teasing from other children — related to the way Satchian talked — resulted in him attending only a week of school in Guyana and never returning.
He was living with his father, who is separated from Satchian’s mother and who earns about $100 a week making jewelry.
“He’s come a long way. He loves learning,” Ferguson said, adding that her daughter, Elizabeth, helps Satchian with his homework.
Neighbor Sharon Stidham, 52, stops by to tutor Satchian for one hour, five days a week, in reading and math. She is a certified teacher and professional tutor but charges nothing to work with Satchian.
In addition, a speech pathologist — a “friend of a friend” — donates her services once a week with Satchian on pronunciation and word formation, Ferguson said.
Satchian said he was shy and frustrated when he arrived in Springfield because few people could understand him.
“Now, he’s 100 percent better,” Glatz said.
Outside of school work, Satchian said he enjoys reading Dr. Seuss books, playing Minecraft on the computer, having fun on the family’s trampoline in the backyard, swimming in the in-ground pool and engaging in water-balloon fights with the other children and the neighbors.
He and Brenden have become particularly close. They consider themselves brothers and do what brothers often do — tease each other and wrestle on the floor, Ferguson said.
“The decibel level in the house since February has about tripled,” she said.
Brenden accompanied his mother on the trip to Guyana when they met Satchian.
“They had an instant connection,” Ferguson said.
Brenden said, “When I was little, I never really had a brother.” He looked at Satchian and said, “I can still beat him up, though.”
Satchian and Brenden, who share a bedroom, like to play baseball together. Satchian plans to join a recreational baseball team in the spring. Gebhardt, 32, said Satchian has “a pretty good arm on him.”
But for the most part, Satchian is a “homebody,” Ferguson said.
He is competitive with everyone in the family on the basement pool table, she said. Satchian learned pool in Guyana.
In Springfield, he likes to take hot showers that last about 30 minutes. In Guyana, his home didn’t have hot water.
In Guyana, most dogs ran wild and were mean, he said. In Springfield, he gets along with the family’s four dogs, and one — “Taffy” — is his favorite.
He used to confine his eating to soups that would be less likely than other foods to get clogged in the hole in his hard palate. Now he eats almost everything, though he still doesn’t like vegetables.
He has grown to love ice cream, usually topping it with chocolate syrup.
Satchian said he would like to spend the rest of his life in the United States, though he would like to visit his family in Guyana soon. A visit is out of the question right now because his mouth needs to be monitored for potential complications over the next year and potentially longer, Ferguson said.
Satchian, his family in Guyana and Ferguson’s family all are interested in Ferguson and Gebhardt adopting him, Ferguson said. They all are looking into what it will take to make that happen, she said.
He will remain in Springfield for the “foreseeable future,” Ferguson said.
“He’s just blossomed,” she said.