Peruvian teen in Miami for genital reconstruction after rifle accident left him without a penis

Luis Canelo, 17, has traveled from his village in the Peruvian Amazon to Miami for an operation allowing him to ‘move on.’

07/25/2012 5:00 AM

07/26/2012 7:09 PM

When Luis Canelos was 9, he picked up his father’s rifle and accidentally shot himself in the groin.

The tragedy destroyed his genitalia except for a small part of his right testicle.

Now, 17, he has a chance to become whole again.

A doctor in Miami heard about Luis’ plight and reached out to his family.

In May, the teen learned he would undergo replacement surgery called phalloplasty.

The hope is that Luis will have a fully functioning penis once the operation is done, allowing him to father children in the future.

“I want to recover my body, be young again,” Luis said.

Luis and his father, Roger, 41, arrived in Miami July 16 thanks to a program called International Kids Fund Wonderfund, which is run by Jackson Memorial Foundation. The charity helps foreign kids get medical treatment and surgery they can’t receive or afford in their home countries.

Children are treated at Holtz Children’s Hospital at University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center and money is raised through private and public donations to help cover the costs.

The Wonderfund organization felt compelled to help Luis “not only because of the physical situation but also because of the emotional side effects that come with the situation,” said Executive Director María Luisa Chea.

Luis’ treatment will cost $50,000, an expense his family could not afford on their own. Ronald McDonald House, a hostel for visiting families near Jackson, is providing them housing.

“My family is a poor family. We don’t have a lot of resources,” Roger said.

The Canelos family lives in a straw house in a village of 10,000 in the rural Peruvian region of Loreto, bordering Colombia and Ecuador. They share a parcel of land with other families where they grow yucca, plantains, corn and rice, as well as raise small chickens, for their own consumption.

Loreto is isolated from much of the country, Roger explained. Ambulances, for example, arrive by river.

“Everything is jungle out there,” Roger said.

Luis and Roger had never left their village before. Their journey to the United States began when they took a small boat bound for Mazan, a town in the same province. Next they crossed part of the Amazon to arrive in Quito, Ecuador. From there, father and son boarded a flight to Lima, where they stayed for two weeks before departing for Miami.

Roger brought with him a camera to document the trip to South Florida, a metropolis unlike his village. So far he has taken pictures of Metrorail and large homes.

“I never thought I could get this far,” Luis said.

The group first learned about Luis through Dr. Christopher J. Salgado, associate professor of surgery and section chief of plastic surgery at the University of Miami, Chea said.

Luis said he has found a lot of support in his large family — his mother, father, one brother and seven sisters. Keeping in touch with the family from Miami has been difficult. Their home only receives electricity at night. If the family’s sole cellphone is out of battery, they’re virtually out of reach. Luis said he misses them and wants to spend time with them again.

Luis hopes the surgery will allow him to move on with his life, or “ seguir adelante,” as he said in Spanish.

During the surgery, two medical teams will build a penis using a fibular bone from a cadaver, a procedure Salgado has performed before successfully, Chea said.

After completing his remaining two years of high school, Luis would like to attend college in Peru and become an engineer. With the help of scholarships from the local government, Roger said his son’s dream will become a reality.

In the meantime, Luis said he is calm and happy. His father noted he is very grateful to both God and the organization “that opened doors for us and has a big heart.”

If all goes according to plan, Luis should undergo surgery in August and be back in Peru around mid-September, Chea said. Once back in Peru, doctors there will help Luis recover.

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