The debate over the health of American subcontractor Alan Gross and whether a growth on his shoulder is a cause for concern buzzed from Washington to the Cuban capital this week.
A prominent New York rabbi and physician visited the American who is serving a long jail term in Cuba and said Gross is in good health despite his family’s concerns.
Rabbi Elie Abadie, who is also a gastroenterologist, told The Associated Press in an interview after a 2 1/2-hour visit at a military hospital in Havana that he personally examined Gross and received a lengthy briefing from a team of Cuban physicians who have attended him.
He said the 1 1/2-inch growth on Gross’ right shoulder appeared to be a noncancerous hematoma that should clear up by itself.
“Alan Gross does not have any cancerous growth at this time, at least based on the studies I was shown and based on the examination, and I think he understands that also,” Abadie said.
Abadie said the hematoma, basically internal bleeding linked to the rupture of muscle fiber, was likely caused by exercise Gross does in jail.
The Cuban Foreign Affairs Ministry also put out its own statement detailing a meeting Monday between diplomats of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, a doctor and nurse from the U.S. mission, and members of the Cuban medical team that has attended Gross during his time in jail.
The Cuban medical team, said the ministry, presented the results of an Oct. 24 biopsy performed on the “lesion located behind his right shoulder, which confirmed it was not carcinogenic.’’ The Cubans said this information had been transmitted to Gross’ wife, Judy, and the U.S. State Department.
“The Cuban medical team likewise ratified that the general health condition of Mr. Gross is normal and that he is receiving the treatment required by his diseases, including the chronic illnesses that are typical of his age, which he had been suffering from even before his detention,’’ the Cuban statement said.
But Gross’ own doctor, Alan A. Cohan, said more tests are needed. “A blind biopsy that yielded blood and muscle cells is hopeful but not definitive since the sample size is small,’’ said Cohan, a diagnostic radiologist, in a memo to Judy Gross that was released publicly Wednesday.
“He has not been allowed to see a doctor of his own choosing, let alone be released on humanitarian grounds, which is what we’ve been calling for, for a very long time now,’’ said Victoria Nuland, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, at a Wednesday press briefing.
Nuland also said the United States was “not in a position to evaluate, obviously, the results that the Cubans have put forward. We want to see him released, and … we also want to see him have access to the kind of medical care he clearly needs.’’
Gross’ plight has put already chilly relations between Cuba and the United States in a deep freeze. The Maryland native was arrested in December 2009 while on a USAID-funded democracy building program and later sentenced to 15 years in jail for crimes against the state. He claims he was only trying to help the island’s small Jewish community gain Internet access.
Gross’ health has been an ongoing issue during his incarceration. The 63-year-old, who was obese when arrested, has lost more than 100 pounds while in jail. But Abadie, a rabbi at New York’s Edmund J. Safra Synagogue, said Gross’ weight is appropriate for a man his age and height.
Gross’ family has repeatedly appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds, noting his health problems and the fact that his adult daughter and elderly mother have both been battling cancer.
Gross and his wife recently filed a $60 million lawsuit against his former Maryland employer and the U.S. government, saying they didn’t adequately train him or disclose risks he was undertaking by doing development work on the communist-run island. They filed another lawsuit against an insurance company they say has reneged on commitments to pay compensation in case of his wrongful detention.
Associated Press reporter Paul Haven and Miami Herald staff writer Mimi Whitefield contributed to this report.