Baby Alexei faces life saving surgery with his first smile


BABY Alexei Shmarlovski smiled last month for the first time in his life. The blond haired infant has had little to be cheerful about since he was born near the Belarus capital, Minsk, seven months ago.

From birth, Alexei has had a large benign tumour instead of an eye growing from his left eye socket. Doctors believe his deformity is linked to the nuclear reactor disaster 10 years ago in neighbouring Chernobyl, Ukraine, which has spawned a generation of children with birth defects.

Because of his handicap, Alexei's 25 year old mother abandoned him at birth. Classified as a "reject child," Alexei was placed in an orphanage in Minsk. It was there that Ms Ali Hewson and Ms Adi Roche from the Cork based Chernobyl Children's Project met him last December.

They arranged to have him brought to Ireland for life saving treatment at the Children's Hospital, Temple Street, Dublin. While the tumour appears raw and sore, it is not painful, according to Mr Michael Earley, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. However, if left untreated it would become infected and lead to a fatal brain infection, he said.

Alexei arrived in Dublin for medical assessment four weeks ago and has been living with his long term carers, Mr Chris Barrett and his wife, Helen, in Baldoyle for the past fortnight. He will undergo surgery to remove the tumour next Tuesday.

At a reception in the hospital yesterday morning, Alexei's surgical team met the director of the Chernobyl Children's Project, Ms Roche, as well as Ms Hewson and Mr Barrett.

The adults took turns to nurse Alexei on a couch while he sucked on his blue soother to relieve his teething pains and scanned the room with his right eye.

Ms Roche turned Alexei to face Mr Earley, who with Mr David Allcut, a neurosurgeon, will perform the operation. "Now Alexei, take a good look because this man is going to sort out your looks," she said.

The four hour operation will involve removing the tumour and restructuring the bone around Alexei's eye socket. Mr Earley intends to fit Alexei soon afterwards with implants to which a prosthetic eye and eyelid will be attached.

After the operation, Alexei will be nursed by the Barretts who have no children of their own. Mr Barrett said they hope eventually to adopt him.

"We fell in love with him when we saw him," he said. "He's a very placid, good humoured little fellow. He's put on a lot of weight since he arrived and you can see from his face that he's in great humour."