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The following touching story was contributed by one of our readers, Donnette Liotta.
For My Paco
I am a healthy twenty-three year old, born with normal vision, normal hearing and normal speech. My twin sister, Dawn, was not born so lucky. My mother was very young when she had given birth to my sister and me. Because we were born so early we were placed in incubators until we were three weeks old. While in the incubator, the doctor administered too much oxygen to my sister. She was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a nervous disorder which causes a malfunction in the sensory motor skills and also brain damage. She had undergone several unsuccessful surgeries to restore her sight which was completely gone in her left eye and only 68% detectable in her right eye. Along with a slow developing brain, and legal blindness, it was also determined that she was legally deaf in her right ear. She had to wear braces on her legs and she had to walk with crutches. She stuck out like a sore thumb connected to all these contraptions, often causing people to stare and point.
While growing up a twin, I felt my identity was not my own. I wanted to just be Donnette, NOT DAWN'S TWIN SISTER. We lived in a small neighborhood where my sister was the only 'different' child. We were both constantly picked on, and we never had any friends because of my sister's condition. I began to loathe my sister, and I did everything and anything to get her into trouble to get back at her being born mentally retarded and physically disabled.
I felt like she was a constant thorn in my side. I was embarrassed to be seen with her, so I made fun of her right along with the other children. When I turned twelve my mother was so disgusted with my behavior towards my sister, she figured I was old enough to know better, and that I should love my sister for who she is, for that is the way God created her.
My mother threw me in my bedroom and gave me a thick yellow book which looked to me like a photo album. What I saw in that book changed my life and my attitude about the way that I viewed my sister and other handicapped people like her.
There were numerous baby pictures of my sister and I dressed alike, the only difference: Dawn was hooked up to tubes and needles and machines. She had her hands and fingers taped so that she would not compromise the patch on her eye from surgery. She looked like a mummy. I looked small and peaceful. There were also several pictures of the two of us in the hospital until we were three years old. Once again, Dawn was wrapped up in a glorified mummy outfit, with tubes and needles attached to her everywhere. If you looked closely, you could see the pain reflected in her eyes. The picture that stood out the most was a Polaroid snapshot of the two of us in the crib hugging each other. The caption below read, 'I am so happy to get a visit from my twin sister, Netti. The doctors make me cry. She makes me laugh.'
I noticed one common factor in all of the pictures: even though she was in a great deal of pain, and suffering so much, this baby girl, who some would call a handicapped retard, smiled so big for the camera. I realized then what my mother was trying to show me. I felt ashamed at the way I treated her, and I cried myself to sleep.
Later that evening, my sister crawled over and woke me up for dinner. I kissed her and hugged her and profusely apologized for my behavior. She looked at me with uncertainty in her eyes. I knew she did not know what I was talking about. But I knew, I knew.
From that moment on, I was my sister's protector. No one was going to hurt her for any reason. If the children in the neighborhood did not want to play with us because of my sister, so be it. We would play with each other. We did not need them. We were inseparable.
Now as I look back, I realize that I never once took my sister's feeling into consideration. I did not want to know my own sister's story of why. I was so caught up in my own selfishness that I never saw her pain. I never put myself in her shoes. I never had to struggle to do normal, everyday activities. I could run and jump all on my own, without crutches. I never knew how blessed I truly was, or how special Dawn is.
I know that I made it worse for her, because she longed to be 'normal' like me. Strangers do not understand her because they do not know how to deal with her, nor do they have experience dealing with her, so they treat her indifferently. But I am her sister, her blood, and I should have been there for her straight from the beginning. I am her other half, just as she is my other half. When Dawn hurts, I hurt: that is the unbreakable bond Dawn and I share. After all, I AM DAWN'S TWIN SISTER, and she is my world.
'I love you, Paco!!'
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The Story Behind The Mission
This is a story submitted by Debra Scaturro.
"Orphans are the forgotten children who cannot speak, but need a voice"
Nothing has affected my life this much since the tragic death of my
teenage son Shawn who died on June 10, 1992.
In 1998, an article that would ultimately change the direction of my
life made its way to my mailbox on Christmas Eve. It was sealed in a
white envelope with my name handwritten on it, but had no return
address. I tossed the stack of Christmas cards on the coffee table
and ripped open the mysterious envelope. The caption read,
“Russian orphanages ‘appalling,’ rights group says” sent shivers down
my spine and dampened my holiday spirit. What really caught my
attention is the paragraph below.
"Of the 200,000 children institutionalized, 95 percent have at least
one living parent. In most cases, the parents have given their
offspring to the state because they are disabled. Because of the
stigma attached to birth defects doctors routinely persuade new
parents to give up disabled children at birth and send them to
orphanages. From infancy, disabled children are confined to a bed,
never taught to walk or talk. They live in barren dorms with no
pictures on the wall, have no toys of their own, and rarely receive
attention from adults. Many of them are denied operations that could
improve their condition."
STOP right there! What the hell is going on half way around the world?
Better yet why isn’t anyone doing something about it?
That evening as we sat around our lavishly set table feasting on an
enormous amount of food and drink and making toasts of good cheer,
I couldn’t stop thinking about those poor orphans. I pictured babies
crying because they were starving to death. It was too much to bear.
How could I be happy knowing children were suffering?
In the days that followed my thoughts were never very far from the
orphans. I wondered if the article written by the LA Times made things
better or worse for the children? Or could orphan life be any worse for a child?
I learned that life goes on around us no matter what tragic event we
experience in our own lives. That the world we live in doesn't stop
just because you are hurting. And although the article upset me greatly
there was nothing I could do at the time for those babies, except pray.
I resumed the days ahead preparing for the New Year and each time I
was greeted with a smile I tried my best to give one back. I kept my
thoughts private for fear of spoiling it for others. But then I exploded.
It was at the hair and nail salon that I tuned into a conversation
going on in the next booth. The gory details about orphan life was all
too familiar. Apparently there was a show on TV about the neglect and
abuse that goes on in some orphanages. I am glad that I missed it;
I don't think that I would have had the stomach to sit through it.
The longer the woman talked the quieter the room got and by the end of
her story all that could be heard was the humming of the hair and blow
dryers. We were stunned, sickened, angered, bewildered, saddened, and
confused by one of life's harsh realities. “What can we do about it?”
Someone asked. “N-o-t-h-i-n-g!” Another responded. “We could write
letters.” I suggested. “Who has time to write?” I heard someone say
from across the room. "Sounds like someone had time to sit through a
one hour horror show. And looks like we have time to get our hair and
nails done too." I blurted out in one breath. I couldn't wait to get
out of that place and I am sure when I left I was the talk; my ears
rang all the way home.
That evening right before it was time to ring in the New Year I reread
the article. It was the last paragraph of the article that stuck in my
throat this time this time.
“Abandoned infants, toddlers, and older children with disabilities are
languishing in interminable idleness, deprived of touch, sound, visual
stimulation, and love.”
As Dick Clark began his count down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,
I made my New Years Resolution. I would start a new mission and call it
Starfish International Missions. This mission would be dedicated to
improving the quality of life for orphans.
On December 1, 2000, nearly two years later we welcomed Alex into our
home and our hearts. He is our first orphan. This brave little soul has
traveled half way around the world to find a better life.
Yes, I do believe in miracles and there is a God, after all who else
would have sent me that article? God must have thought it was time for
me to change the direction of my life.
We have breathed new life into one little orphan and paved the way
Love, Debra Scaturro
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Never Underestimate the Power of Your Actions
One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, "Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd. "I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends in the tomorrow), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.
As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes.
My heart went out to him. So I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, "Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives."
He looked at me and said, "Hey thanks!". There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid.
I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him. And my friends thought the same of him.
Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, "Dang boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!" He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak.
Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys who really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I did and all the girls loved him! Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, "Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!" He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. "Thanks, "he said.
As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years, your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach…but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give him or her. I am going to tell you a story."
I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. "Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable."
I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his mom and dad looking at me smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize it’s depth. Never underestimate the power of you actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life.
For better of for worse, God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others.