Playing His Way Back to Health

Several weeks ago, patients and employees at the new Lennar Foundation Medical Center in Coral Gables began to notice classical music filling the front of the building. Someone was playing the piano in the building’s lobby — Chopin, specifically — and the music was rising up through the atrium to the floors above.

The pianist turned out to be Leon Jalfon, a 20-year-old patient at the Lennar Center, who, upon seeing the Steinway in the lobby, had humbly asked if he could sit down and play for a few minutes.

“We said yes, of course,” said Gissette Onorato, the Lennar Center’s executive director for the human experience. “The piano is there to be played — by students from the Frost School of Music or by patients — as one more way of creating a healing environment unlike any other in South Florida. Once we heard how well Leon played, however, we invited him to come back.”

Jalfon now typically plays at the Lennar Center one afternoon a week. His playing, however, turns out to be as much about helping himself as it is about helping other patients.

“Four years ago, in Venezuela, I had nasal surgery to correct a deviated septum and other conditions,” said Jalfon. “Soon after the surgery I began experiencing a discomfort and burning sensation in my eyes. I saw several doctors in Venezuela, but none was able to diagnose the cause. When my family moved to Aventura 18 months ago, we heard about Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and I went there seeking help.”

Jalfon began seeing Victor Perez, M.D., an ophthalmologist who specializes in difficult cases. Perez recognized the problem as a form of neuropathy caused by damage to the nerves leading to the eyes that occurred during the nasal surgery in Venezuela.

“My visual acuity is fine,” said Jalfon, “but the nerves in my eyes are very sensitive to the environment. It is especially uncomfortable on bright, cold or windy days, or if air conditioning is pointed toward my face.”

Perez then referred Jalfon to Konstantinos D. Sarantopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., a pain specialist in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Management who is exploring a pharmaceutical approach to treating the neuropathy in Jalfon’s eyes.

In the meantime, the physical discomfort and the associated emotional distress have taken their toll, causing Jalfon to pause his online college studies. Focusing on the piano, which he began playing when he was 7, adds an activity and motivates him.

“I began seeing my doctors at the Lennar Center almost as soon as it opened,” he said. “It’s a beautiful facility, and the attention I receive is far beyond what I expected. I also love coffee, so I was very pleased to find a wonderful coffee machine in the waiting room.”

Jalfon’s appearances at the Lennar Center have earned him applause — and requests.

“I was taught to play classical pieces,” he said, “but now I am learning Sinatra.”

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