When I noticed his ankles, I did not know if I should ask about his feet or just ignore their shape. My boyfriend, Austin, has congenitally small ankles that are taut, with thick skin connecting them to his scarred, high-arched feet. Austin was born with bilateral club feet that were corrected with multiple operations, but not all children are given the chance to rise above their challenges. Rebecca, for example, was born in Ghana with a deformity and could not receive medical treatment. Now she has the opportunity to come to America to receive corrective surgery and learn to walk.
I have had my share of challenges and at times they have consumed me, but I have mostly focused on my strengths. In retrospect, all other problems seem minor compared with Rebecca’s situation. I led the charge to bring her to Dallas to undergo surgery.
I learned about her from my mother who is a physician. Five-year-old Rebecca spider-crawled almost half a mile on a dirt path to the village school in hopes that visiting missionaries would help her. Living in a village 40 miles north of Ghana’s capital, she has never seen a doctor. She cannot walk. Like Austin, she too was born with bilateral club feet and suffers from dislocated hips; small, hypoplastic lower legs, and severely medially deviated feet, which make her small for her age. I learned of her desire to walk and go to school and realized I had to do more than just be sympathetic.
I called Texas Scottish Rite Hospital - one of our nation’s leading pediatric centers for the treatment of orthopedic conditions - and endured a maze of patient coordinators. They patched me through from one mindless clerk to another, so I took a chance and emailed the orthopedic surgeon directly. To my surprise, she agreed to take on Rebecca pro-bono if I could arrange for her to come to America.
I am president of the Anchor Club of Dallas, a service organization dedicated to improving the lives of others. I do not fear challenges, even big ones. Last year our club raised over $10,000 for a local man who was paralyzed. We made a difference for him, and now I am organizing the same type of effort for Rebecca. We have raised over $3,600, which will pay for her travel expenses here.
Rebecca will have surgery this summer. I am satisfied knowing that my efforts will help. I am just one individual in a large community, but I learned a great lesson through her - I can make a difference. The image of Rebecca puts everything in perspective for me; I look down at Austin’s repaired feet and think about how Rebecca’s disability will soon be in her past. When I first witnessed Austin’s condition, I did not know why I felt compelled to ask about his experience. Now, I do.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the March 2006 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.