TRENTON, N.J. – For Tirso Furcal (search), having a sixth finger projecting from one hand and an extra toe on each foot made life in his impoverished country, the Dominican Republic, even more difficult.
The condition made walking painful, caused the stone-polisher frequent injuries and blocked his hopes for better-paying work.
Now, thanks to the generosity of a hospital and surgeons in Jersey City, the extra digits have been removed and Furcal, 41, is healing quickly. Next week, he will return to his wife and three children in his village, Brisas de los Palemeras, a region where several other residents, mainly children, also have extra fingers and toes.
"The majority of the time, it interfered with everything I did, especially when I had to lift up heavy stones," Furcal said through an interpreter.
"The surgery was a success," he said in the interview, eight days after his Nov. 11 surgery at Jersey City Medical Center (search). "I'm hoping things will be better."
He now plans to go to school and pursue his dream of a career in electronics repair, something previously impossible because his deformity prevented him from getting his hands inside electronic equipment.
His left hand had a full extra finger sticking out from the side, forming a "Y" with his pinkie.
So hand surgeon Dr. Marc Urquhart (search) removed that finger and reattached the muscles from it to Furcal's fifth finger so he could move it normally. Urquhart also removed the extra toes on each foot, which sat atop his fourth and fifth toes, making it very painful to wear shoes. Furcal's right hand has a small nub on the side about the size of a wart, but that did not need to be removed.
"He's going to do fabulously," predicted Dr. Carl Valenziano, chairman of surgery at the medical center. "He has very good function of his hands now."
Valenziano, who arranged for Furcal's first trip ever away from his home so he could have the surgery, said Monday that the man could walk almost immediately afterward and already is wearing shoes comfortably.
A former shopkeeper who lost his small food store in his village in an economic downturn, Furcal then got work with his brother's construction business, polishing stone floors being installed in churches and school buildings in and around Santo Domingo, the country's capital.
He first met Valenziano a couple years ago, when the doctor was on a medical charity mission organized by the group Foundation for Peace (search). Valenziano periodically goes on the group's missions to build schools, orphanages and churches and to provide health care, medicine, vitamins, even water sterilization systems to people in the poor Caribbean nation, which shares an island with Haiti.
Valenziano was helping to pour the floor and put up walls for a new church, and Furcal was part of the construction crew working there.
"He's just a pleasant fellow," the doctor said.
So Valenziano asked Furcal if he would like his condition fixed. When he eagerly accepted, the doctor arranged for Furcal's airfare, visa and for him to stay with Dominican families in northern New Jersey before and after the surgery. The hospital's chief executive, Jonathan Metsch, agreed to waive all the costs for the man's surgery and hospital stay.
Furcal even got a hospital room with a window looking directly onto Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, prompting him to say he felt he "had come to the center of the world."
"My oldest daughter started crying when I had to leave," recalled Furcal, whose daughters are aged 17, 14 and five.
Then, in telephone calls home after the surgery, he told his family he was doing fine. His wife was crying but very happy during one conversation, he recalled.
"I told her not to worry, that I have my family in Christ here," he said, referring to the doctors and other medical workers at the hospital.