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News Releases

For Immediate Release

Humanitarian Effort Brings Injured Nicaraguan Boy to Children’s Hospital’s Airway and Voice Center for Reconstruction

A Nicaraguan boy who fractured his larynx and blocked his airway in a tragic accident has traveled to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC to seek treatment at its Airway and Voice Center.

Elkin Fonseca Zapata, 9, from the village of Los Cedros in Villa El Carmen underwent airway reconstruction surgery at Children’s on Thursday, May 17, 2007. He will spend several weeks at Children’s recovering. Elkin’s surgery was led by Robert F. Yellon, MD, an otolaryngologist from the Airway and Voice Center.

“Unfortunately, living in a rural village in Nicaragua with poor access to medical care, Elkin has been at great risk for developing airway infections and complications. And because of the stigma of his tracheostomy tube, he has not been attending school,” Dr. Yellon said. “Our goal is repair his airway so he can return to school and to a normal and healthy childhood.”

A number of organizations have come together to bring Elkin to Children’s including: Gran Pacifica Beach and Golf Resort in Nicaragua, a Central American real estate developer founded by Pittsburghers; innerCHANGE Associates International, a cross-cultural consulting firm based in Sewickley; Rotary Clubs of Western Pennsylvania; and American Airlines. Before departing for Pittsburgh, Elkin was named an official Ambassador of Good Will by Nicaragua’s Institute of Tourism (INTUR).

While playing near his home in June 2005, Elkin crushed his airway in his neck when he fell from a tree and landed on a metal fence. At a hospital in Nicaragua, he received an emergency tracheotomy that saved his life. Elkin continues to breathe through this metal tracheostomy tube inserted into his neck, yet breathing and speaking are extremely difficult for Elkin.

In October 2006, representatives from innerCHANGE working on behalf of Gran Pacifica in Nicaragua met Elkin and his grandmother, Miriam Araica (who has accompanied him to Pittsburgh). In January 2007, in another serendipitous encounter, the innerCHANGE representatives arranged a meeting between Elkin’s family and Edward M. Barksdale Jr., MD, a Children’s surgeon who had made a personal trip to Nicaragua. Working together, they arranged Elkin’s medical trip to Pittsburgh.

“When I met Elkin, it was clear to me he is a bright child with his whole life before him. Yet because of this terrible accident, his education and his childhood have suffered and his situation was only getting worse,” Dr. Barksdale said. “As a father and as a pediatric specialist, I realized that we must do the best we can to offer the resources of Children’s Hospital to help Elkin and his family.”

Children’s is one of the leading centers in the country offering this type of procedure. To reconstruct a damaged or narrow airway, ENT surgeons use carefully shaped pieces of the child’s own rib cartilage to widen and repair the damaged area. Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery can take anywhere from a week to several months, according to Dr. Yellon. Learn more about Children’s Airway and Voice Center.

From Gran Pacifica’s perspective, no United States city has done more to assist Nicaragua than Pittsburgh. For example, when its capital city of Managua was devastated by the Christmas 1972 earthquake, one of Pittsburgh's own baseball superstars, Roberto Clemente, lost his life trying to fly life-saving supplies to the city. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Pittsburgh Rotary Club, along with local foundations and corporate support combined with significant Nicaraguan assistance, established two Roberto Clemente Health Clinics serving the poor in rural regions. A number of local non-profit organizations have sent substantial health-care equipment, medicines and supplies for more than a decade.

Gran Pacifica is a 2,200-acre “new urbanist” community of private homes, condominiums, a world class hotel and championship golf course now taking shape on the Pacific coastline of Nicaragua, with the first condominium having opened in March, and an investment in place of more than $8 million in physical plant infrastructure to date. The resort is 45 minutes from the cities of Managua and Leon, with more than three miles of continuous beach frontage along the Pacific Ocean. For more information, visit


Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-7919 or 412-692-5016,
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5502 or 412-692-5016,

Last Update
February 14, 2008
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Last Update
February 14, 2008