If you read about my travels to Zimbabwe in December 2007, you'll remember I went to the home of Elton Sare, a 17-year-old with hemophilia who was suffering from a grotesquely swollen right knee. I met Elton's entire family, including brother Emmanuel, age 11, who also has hemophilia. Elton lives in poverty: his father died ten years ago. His mother earns only about $27 US a month selling vegetables. His older brother Sylvester was sick with tuberculosis, quarantined in the kitchen, sleeping on the cold, hard floor.
Elton haunted me for months, and I tried to find help for him--a hospital that might offer free care. I had just about given up, until I met UN Goodwill Ambassador Juliet Hanlon, who persuaded me to keep trying, day after day. Juliet gave me renewed faith and hope. I started asking again.
When I mentioned Elton's case to Dr. Len Valentino (chief of Pediatric Hematology and Director of the Rush Hemophilia & Thrombophilia Center at RUSH Hospital University Medical Center in Chicago) at the NHF annual meeting in November, he told me he might be able to help. Just get Elton here and we would appeal to the generosity of the RUSH community to help.
What's happened since then is nothing short of a miracle. Elton is here now, in Chicago. He just arrived Saturday morning, after 30 hours in transit, traveling alone, with three plane changes. The gracious staff at South Africa Airways ensured he arrived safely. What courage Elton has!
You cannot imagine the challenges to get him here. When Dr. Valentino offered the surgery, Providence, as they say, started moving. We found a donor for plane tickets--Neil Herson, president of ASD Healthcare. Wyeth agreed to provide BeneFIX for the surgery. My dear friends Chris and Angela Castaldo, who have a young son with hemophilia (and two others!) opened their home to Elton for a month. A volunteer from Zimbabwe living in Chiacgo, Emma, helped meet him at the airport, to make him feel more at home. Even the UN got involved when it looked like Elton's visa might be denied. A collection was taken through Save One Life to raise money for the passport, visa and traveling expenses--$2,900 raised in two days!
Elton comes from a country that is collapsing: there is 80% unemployment, over one million percent inflation, the world's highest. And a raging cholera epidemic that has killed over 3,700. Food and gas are in short supply. Elton went shopping today at a mall: his eyes wide, he was overwhelmed seeing all the stores, the sites, the sounds. But not so overwhelmed that he didn't know what to say when asked if he wanted a CD: "Usher."
I learned through Chris that Elton's brother Sylvester died of TB last summer. And his older sister died just in September of meningitis. Loss is common in countries like Zimbabwe. I wonder how his mother ever found the courage to let her 18-year-old son board a plane and fly half way around the world to be with strangers in a strange country.
But Elton is adjusting as only a teen can. He loves the cold weather, enjoys movies on the TV, and is warming to his host family. It must be so strange. He had his first infusion tonight for a bleed in his right elbow. Tomorrow (Monday) he has an array of tests at RUSH, and on Thursday, he gets his operation for his synovitis. We'll keep you posted on how he is doing. You can also read Chris's website: http://www.chris-tocentric.com for a first-hand report.
Thanks to everyone who is helping Elton! Please consider making a contribution, so that we can buy Elton new clothes, a suitcase, some CDs, and art supplies (he loves to paint in watercolor!). We want to stock him up before he heads back March 28 to Zimbabwe, where these things are not available, and where life is the greatest gift.
Go to www.SaveOneLife.net and click "Donate." It's that easy, and will mean so much to Elton.
(Photos: Elton's knee, Dec. 2007; Elton and Emma at Chicago O'Hare airport on arrival; Chris Castaldo, Elton, Dr. Valentino)
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