Walks now

My wife loves old movies. Bring up the title of a black and white film from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, and chances are good that she will recall the actors and the plot.

Thirty years ago we used to watch Hollywood Classics on our local public television station Saturday nights. One favorite film was I Remember Mama, the story of a Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco at the turn of the century.

I-remember-mama-1948_poster

One of the minor characters, crusty Uncle Chris (Oscar Homolka), reveals on his deathbed that he has been donating his life-savings to pay for surgical services for children with orthopedic problems of the leg or foot. A notebook is discovered in which he recorded the names of those he helped. Next to each child’s name, Uncle Chris had penned the words “walks now.”

I thought of Uncle Chris while driving home from a recent visit with a high school classmate of mine, someone I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Our paths last crossed at our 30th class reunion, when he appeared with his wife and infant daughter. Several years later I learned that his little girl died in a tragic accident on one of the interstate highways when a tractor-trailer plowed into the back of their vehicle. My friend and his wife used donations and the proceeds of the settlement to establish a home for underprivileged children in Lutsk, Ukraine. The home is named in honor of their daughter.

During my visit — a reunion that also included our 6th grade teacher — my friend showed us a video clip of the children at the home as well as numerous photos of the kids. One little boy had come to the home on crutches. A prior infection in his femur had resulted in an improperly healed fracture. Surgeons had attempted to fix a plate to the bone, but an x-ray demonstrated that the screws had pulled out, leaving an unstable deformed thigh.

During one of their trips to Ukraine, my friend and his wife arranged to have this boy evaluated by a team of orthopedic surgeons in Kiev. Eventually, the boy went on to receive additional surgery to correct the non-union fracture using a device invented by a Russian orthopedic surgeon, the Ilizarov apparatus.

A series of photographs taken over a period of months demonstrated the healing process. Healing takes time, and some healings take more time than others; in the end the bone in Yura’s thigh knitted well.

Yura’s story brought to mind the character of Uncle Chris. As I drove home that February evening, I found myself wondering if my friend might not have a small notebook tucked away somewhere with Yura’s name jotted down in it. If so, I imagine that just next to it, he might have penned the words “walks now.”

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3 comments on “Walks now

  1. DJE says:

    Moving piece. Thank you. “Engle” is German for “angel.”. Fitting. D

  2. Art Drescher says:

    Great article, Brian. It was great to see you again. Perhaps we will some day go and see him for ourselves.

  3. Brian, I don’t know how I missed this until now, but I really appreciate the writing of this. Maybe you will join us on a trip Ethiopia sometime…

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