Forging Relationships, Sharing Faith and Investing in Lives
By Katie Leatherwood – BBI Missionary; Designed to Live
RIGA, Latvia – Summer in Latvia is short. Therefore no day should ever be wasted. This season is quickly coming to a close, yet the warm weather reminds us to enjoy the bright sunshine, the beautiful flowers and the unexpected joys God sends our way. It has been a busy and blessed season, full of camps, new friends, Orthotics and Prosthetics (O&P) and exciting possibilities for the future.
Serving the Entire Family
My summer began with a family camp in Pelči called Cerību Planēta. This camp is for families that have children with disabilities. Their goal is to serve the entire family. This summer marked the 10th anniversary of Cerību Planēta! This was my first time to attend this camp and my primary role was to be an assistant for a 9 year old girl named Dana. Dana has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disorder that affects her muscles and nerves of the spinal column. Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to get to know Dana and her mother. Dana speaks fluent English and is a very smart girl; pretty much the coolest 9-year-old I know! We had a great time with different activities throughout the week.
I had the great honor of meeting the President and First lady of Latvia when they stopped by for a visit at camp. They used this opportunity to greet and visit with all the families. Dana got to personally engage him as they made a craft together.
I was so impressed with this camp and how things were done. One aspect that impressed me most was the quality of the camp volunteers. These personal assistants, mostly young people, served as if they had been trained as full time care givers! They were very loving and affectionate towards the children and families. The way they interacted with the children directly reflects God’s love for all His children. I was honored to serve alongside and learn from them throughout the week.
At the beginning of camp I was introduced as an O&P clinician and explained that I would be available for consultations. On the final evening, a mother approached me and asked if I would evaluate her son. Following this initial evaluation, 7 more parents came forward requesting evaluations and consultations for their children. In a dark narrow hallway, I measured for 11 different orthoses before the evening came to an end. It was evident that these parents want the very best for their children. They love them and they are seeking hope for the future, encouragement and reassurance. They want to know that the care they are providing is quality care. I pray that the simple orthoses I provide will give each of them hope, but most of all, will show God’s love in a practical way.
Immediately following the camp in Pelči, I headed to Wings for Wheels camp, Challenge 10. This camp is focused on serving adults with physical disabilities. I have assisted at this camp for the last 2 years. This year, I was again invited to hold an O&P clinic, evaluating and measuring campers throughout the week. Ieva, a student from Stradina University, was my assistant. She was very helpful with everything from translation to modifying Ankle & Foot Orthoses (AFOs )! Although she had just graduated, her knowledge in Orthodics and Prothestics (O&P) and compassionate patient care was invaluable.
This year at camp Challenge, we had fewer participants for O&P services. This allowed us to begin work on the orthoses from the first camp. By the end of the week, we had 8 molds modified and ready for fabrication. This year, I intended to take things a bit slower. I planned to complete and fit the O&P work after camp. This allowed more time to work on each piece, whereby I wasn’t rushing the process, less pressure, ensuring quality work.
Janis : Standing tall
God never ceases to amaze me by the way He provides and prepares things. Janis has been my friend for a few years, since I moved to Latvia. He has cerebral palsy and could benefit from orthoses. He has seen what I do but has never been interested in any type of brace. I always told him, whenever he is ready, we can talk about what kinds of braces are available. At camp, Janis finally decided to question me about what type of braces could benefit him. I reached in my bag of pre-made, donated, custom braces to show him some examples. We put one on his leg, to let him see how it feels, for demonstration purposes. To my surprise, these braces were a perfect fit for Janis. The right size and correct design! Thanks be to an office in the USA that made these AFOs several years ago. Janis was able to benefit from 2, never before worn carbon fiber AFOs, because of their generosity and willingness to help me in Latvia. He now stands taller and walks with more confidence. God always provides!
Edgars: Looking up
Edgars was in a terrible traumatic accident 4 years ago. As a result, he has a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord damage. Edgars is unable to talk clearly, so he writes down what he wants to say. I was asked to evaluate Edgars for an AFO at camp. He has a severe plantar flexion contracture (foot in ‘’ballerina’’ position). The goal of fitting Edgars with an AFO would be to enable him to stand and eventually reduce the amount of contracture. It would be a complicated design, but we decided to give it a try. I fit Edgars with the AFO a few weeks following camp. With a big smile on his face, he was able to stand on both feet! It will be a slow progression to reduce the contracture, but he is trying to stand with the aid of this new AFO. Preparing to leave, I asked him and his family if I could pray with them. His mother first hesitated and started to refuse. She said, “God does not help…..but He has helped today.” Following the prayer, Edgars looked up, pointing to the sky smiling, and said “God”. His father patted him on the heart and said “God is in here”.
I will continue to follow up with Edgars and make adjustments as he progresses. I pray that he will continue to look up to God and his family will be open to receive God’s love.
Unique Goals for Unique People
The people I have had the opportunity to work with are very unique with unique goals for orthotic intervention.
I wish I could tell you all of their stories and what a blessing they are. Most of them do not fit into the typical orthotic design. A customized ‘out-of-the-box’ solution is often required. Their goal is sometimes to walk better, sometimes the goal is to stand and sometimes the goal is to keep the feet and legs in a better position when sitting in a wheelchair. I am fortunate that I get to work with these people and learn their stories. I am challenged with each person to design the best solution in order to meet their goals. I pray that God will use these simple orthotic braces to provide some hope and encouragement to their lives.
All orthoses from summer camps have been completed, delivered and fitted to the patients. In just a few weeks, I will see everyone for a follow-up visit to ensure the braces are fitting appropriately. I pray these follow-up visits will allow me to continue these relationships, give me a chance to share my faith and continue to invest in their lives.