Dana Hinton is PacificSD's advertising director. Her father, Jim Schroedl is asuperintendent for B2Gold, a Canada-based gold mining company with operations in Africa and the Philippines. In early 2013, Jim was overseeing the construction of a goldmine in Namibia when he called Dana to tell her about a young girl he had met. What follows is Dana's account of that phone call and the chain of events it set in motion...
Dad calls me all the time when he's traveling... which is all the time. But something in his voice sounded different when he called me last year from Namibia to tell me about a house keeper girl he saw at the hotel where he was staying.
He said, "She's this shy little gal, an amputee with a crutch, and she's always buzzing back and forth and just goin' like a son of a gun."
Dad told me he saw the girl at the hotel every day and that he wanted to help her. Actually, he wanted me to help and asked if I could find a prosthetic leg for this girl. I wanted to say yes, but I was thinking "probably not."Wanting to make Dad happy but having no idea where to begin, I wrote a list of questions for him to ask the girl. I didn't even know what to ask. I mean, would a prosthetics company want to know her height? Her weight?
When I emailed Dad the list, he said he would find the girl, tell her his daughter in the U.S. might be able to help get her a leg, and then help her answer the questions. When he called me to tell me how it went, he said, "I think she thought I was crazy."
It turns out the girl, Lourentia Kandi, was actually 26 years old. When she was 7, she was in a terrible car accident. At first, local doctors thought Louren, as we would come to call her, would recover completely. But complications arose. An infection developed and the doctors ended up having to amputate her leg above the knee.
Louren told my dad that, as an adult, she had always had trouble finding work in her hometown. The current hotel job was temporary, and with such little opportunity nearby, she had already started looking for work in neighboring villages, walking long distances with just a small crutch.
I don't know if it was my dad or this woman's story that elicited such a passionate response in me, but I made it my mission to help Louren. Using her responses from my questions and some photos Dad sent, I wrote a brief bio about her and sent it to my friend Nicole Busch, who I had a hunch could help. Nicole forwarded the message to her friend Anthony Valentino, who had a friend at the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation. With that, the ball was rolling.
It was about 10 p.m. on the night after I sent that email to Nicole. I was lying in bed when I decided to check my email. And there it was:a message from Nick Roumonada, business development manager at Hanger Prosthetics in Torrance, California. Nick was writing to say that the company's regional vice president, Phil Conley, had given his support. Hanger would donate a prosthetic leg if Louren could make it to Torrance.
I got the chills and began to cry. I couldn't wait to call Dad to discuss the next hurdle: getting Louren to California. Luckily, the company Dad works for, B2Gold, was supportive of the idea of helping Louren.
Dad and his coworkers planned a surprise party for her to tell her the news - that they had found her a leg and she'd be traveling to the United States.
In the end, B2Gold not only helped secure Louren's visa and passport, but also funded the trip and provided her with a companion and travel guide, George Shimaneni, the company's corporate affairs manager.
Louren and George arrived in San Diego on Valentine's Day of this year. They stayed with my husband, Ben, and me for nearly a month. My mother, Elaine, also came to stay with us during Louren's visit. I seriously have no idea what we would have done if it weren't for Mom's help. She put her life on hold for two months to be a part of this.
When I first met Louren, I remember thinking how shy and innocent she looked, how she seemed like a girl so much younger than her actual age. I sensed she was overwhelmed in the beginning, which made sense, of course. But she warmed up quickly.
The entire trip was full of firsts for Louren - her first time on a plane; her first time seeing snow, which happened during a layover in Washington D.C.; her first sight of the ocean. When Ben and I took her to SeaWorld, obviously another first, Louren pet a dolphin and saw Shamu. We also taught her how to play backgammon, which she ended up beating me at.
The following Monday, my mom drove Louren to the Hanger Prosthetic Clinic in Torrance, where she was fitted for a leg. The Hanger team, led by Dr. Carlos Sambrano,spent a lot of time with Louren, helping her get accustomed to walking with her new leg. She got the hang of it quickly.
I'll never forget what she said when she looked up at me after taking those first steady steps: "I feel like it's my own leg. Sometimes I even forget that I am wearing it." I felt so warm inside, I really don't have words for it. And she hit me with something I hadn't even considered -that giving her the ability to walk without a crutch had an incredible, unforeseen benefit.
She said, "Now I have both hands free."
On Louren's last day in the U.S., my family and I took her to the airport. Right before she stepped onto the escalator, she said a final few words to us. She said, "I will never forget this trip until my last day. I cannot thank the people from B2Gold enough for what they have done for me. And I will always remember my new family in the USA."
I had a lump in my throat as I watched her step on to the escalator and head up, standing on her own two feet.
Give Them A Hand!
Louren's journey would not have happened if not for the generosity of these caring people
Sherri and Bill Lytle, George Shimaneni, Glenn Smith
Phil Conley, Nick Roumonada, Carlos Sambrano
Friends AND Family
Nicole Busch, Anthony Valentino, Nicholas Hammond, Ben Hinton, Elaine and Jim Schroedl
Pacific Beach, during her final days in San Diego before returning to Namibia; photo by Paul Body." src="http://www.pacificsandiego.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/0H3J99171.jpg" alt="Louren, in Pacific Beach, during her final days in San Diego before returning to Namibia; photo by Paul Body." width="580" height="654" />