Thursday, May 31, 2007

Awilda's Story

Terror flooded her eyes. “I don’t want them to cut off my foot....”

* * * *

It was Friday, and we were exhausted. My coworkers Jennifer, Deron, Sarah, Jacob, Erin and I had been in the Dominican Republic for a full week. It was a non-stop flurry of activity as we visited the areas served by Children International’s sponsorship program and interviewed children and their families. Our cameraman, Jacob, and I sat outside as Deron, one of Children International’s writers, interviewed one last family in their home.

“Well, I think we’re done,” I murmured to Jacob. Both of us felt a wave of relief. Although it’s always great to be in the field, the cases we deal with are often pretty emotionally overwhelming, and we were bone tired.

About that time, the rest of the group returned from their interview. Someone looked at the schedule. “Oops. Looks like we’ve still got one more to go....” Wearily, we got up and trudged off, making our way to a simple concrete house with a small covered porch.

But the dazzling smile that met us at the door soon chased our weariness away. Awilda, a pretty 14-year-old, invited us into her home. As we entered the living room, Awilda attempted to move the chairs around so we could be seated. I say "attempted"...because she was in a wheelchair. Quietly, Deron helped arrange the chairs and we were seated. We later learned that Awilda cleans the house and does the dishes, all from her wheelchair.

Awilda’s bubbly personality and quiet grace belied the years of tragedy she had endured. As I translated, Deron and Jennifer gently encouraged her to share her story with us, while Dr. Vargas, our agency doctor, sat on the sofa and filled in the details as needed.

Awilda was born with a herniation of the marrow of the spinal column. I know there’s a mile-long name for her medical condition, but I’m no doctor. The surgery her condition required damaged the nerves controlling her feet, legs, bladder and bowel function, leaving her a paraplegic who must wear diapers at all times.

As a testament to her determination, Awilda can get around on crutches pretty well. Years ago (so long ago she can’t remember the day it happened), she was playing outside and cut her foot. Hours later her mother got home and took her to the hospital, but by that time it was too late. Severe infection had set in.

Due to poor circulation and other side effects of her surgery, the wound never healed. The infection soon progressed to osteomyelitis, a severe infection of the bone. “The orthopedic surgeon is insisting that the best course of treatment is to amputate her leg,” said Dr. Vargas. But then, fiercely, she continued, “But we don’t want that.”

Terror flooded Awilda’s eyes. “I don’t want them to cut off my foot...” she whispered, desperately.

For a moment, Awilda was gone, and my own 14-year-old daughter back in Kansas City took her place.

“What are some of the things you like to do?” I heard Deron asking, snapping back to reality as I realized I had to translate. “I like to hear music…sing,” said Awilda. Then her smile turned to dejection, but she spoke without bitterness. “I like to dance, play ball...all the things I can’t do.”

“We are all hoping for the best, but...what will you do if – God forbid – they do have to amputate?” I asked, hesitantly.

Awilda seemed to try to form words, but instead she lapsed into silence. Tears welled up in her mother’s eyes. “She’s already said she’ll never leave the house again if they amputate her foot. She’s afraid people will look at her strangely,” she murmured.

My role as a translator was forgotten and replaced by the father within me. I tried to communicate with her that having or not having a foot has nothing to do with the beauty that emanates from her soul. That regardless of the outcome of her treatment, the Awilda that people know and love lives on the inside. I had to stop for a moment and choke back my emotions; Jennifer, Deron and I studiously avoided looking at each other, each of us struggling to retain our composure.

Awilda’s mom had been with us the whole time. Her dad, an unemployed bus driver, had just entered the room and now stood behind her. With a tenderness that was surprising for his gruff exterior, he broke the tension of the moment with a teasing remark. “I have some good news, though. She’s already got a boyfriend!”

The old sparkle returned to Awilda’s eyes. “I’m not lying,” she declared. “Yesterday I was over at my aunt’s house....There were ten boys flirting with me!”

It hardly seems fair that the only sensation Awilda can feel in her paralyzed feet is pain, which means the infection is much worse.

Awilda needs help urgently. Thanks to a special donation, she’s getting a new wheelchair. Her generous sponsor has gone above and beyond to make sure her basic needs are met. But she needs to be hospitalized so her infection can be brought under control. And she has dreams, too: she wants to study English...and computers...and guitar.

We always try to help with these critical cases we discover on our trips, but finding the funds among so many urgent needs can be a real challenge.

I promised her we would not forget.


evergreen3 said...

Does the CI medical care cover hospitalization? If not, is there home based care available? If not, is there a chance a fund could be set up to provide for urgent medical needs for Awilda or any CI sponsored child?

Kelly said...

CI's main focus is basic child sponsorship (basic health, dental, education, etc.), so we take each of these critical situations on a case-by-case basis. But we definitely help with hospitalization whenever funds are available to do so -- in many cases, the local agency's budget can cover this. And in cases that are more than the local agency can handle, CI does have a special fund to help out. This fund depends on special donations above and beyond basic sponsorship contributions, so thanks for keeping this in the forefront!

We have been able to get Awilda an appointment with a private specialist. As soon as we hear from the doctor we'll have a much clearer indication of exactly what needs to be done for her, and what her care options are.

Thanks again!

TK said...

Setting up a fund for Awilda's urgent medical need is a very good idea, and should not be delayed.

Could CI be able to set it up so than all sponsors who want to help can contribute to the fund right away?

Robert said...

Setting up a fund would be a good idea.
I also would not minding seeing a list of the costs associated with each of her needs: medical needs, as well as the classes she wanted to take. Since her first operation apparently was botched, would an examination by a US specialist be more appropriate?

Kelly said...

TK and Robert,

Thanks so much for your desire to help Awilda. We do have a fund that can handle donations for her; anyone wishing to donate can email us a and we’ll put you in touch with the person who manages that fund. And thanks again!