Before Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the Philippines last year, 5-year-old Aldrin Tadic loved to run and play basketball with his cousins.
But his childhood was violently interrupted when flying debris from a collapsing school roof severed his left leg below the knee.
It is difficult for Aldrin’s mother to see him in this condition.
“It hurts. Now he sits at the door and watches other children, jealous because they can run,” said Aime Donghit.
Although the impoverished family could not even dream of getting him a prosthetic, she would tell her son, “Just let them run around because one day you will be able to play like that again.”
When Elissa Montanti, an American halfway across the world in New York City, Googled “child amputee” shortly after Typhoon Haiyan, Aldrin’s photo, taken by Save the Children, was the only one to appear.
Montanti, who runs Global Medical Relief Fund, an NGO that helps child victims of war and natural disasters, recalls the immediate connection she felt: “His picture cried out for help. For any child in need, I will move heaven and in this case the Philippines to help him. I became determined to get him a new leg.”
But first, she would have to find him. The typhoon and storm surge took over 8,000 lives and destroyed everything – buildings, roads, power and communication infrastructure – in its path.Without the name of the boy or his hometown, locating him seemed impossible. But as Montanti said, “I knew one way or another I was going to find this precious child and give him a chance to walk again.”
That determination became the engine that fueled a trans-national search, involving strangers and friends, bound together only by the belief that they might be able to help someone in need.
When Montanti’s own network failed to unearth any information on the boy, she expanded her search. A friend offered to introduce her to Geraldine Acuna, a Filipina living in Boston.
Acuna recalls receiving the photo and a request to help, and although doubtful that the boy could be found, she agreed to try.
“I sent the picture around to everyone I knew somewhat apologetically, knowing the chances of finding the kid were slim to none. But I knew if I had turned away from this I wouldn’t have stopped thinking about ‘what if.’ Helping one is always better than helping none.”
She continued, “Most people thought I was crazy. It felt like I was chasing the wind.”
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The boy’s photo was eventually recognized by Dr. Rosalia Acosta Teleg, a Manila-based neurologist who had volunteered at the hospital where Tadic had been treated.
“He was easily remembered, according to the nurses, because he was the most traumatized in the pedia(tric) ward. He would suddenly cry in the middle of the night waking up the entire ward,” Teleg recalled.
Teleg then journeyed to Tacloban to find medical records containing the boy’s identity and address.
“The moment his face became a name, everything changed,” Acuna said.
The boy’s family was visiting relatives in Tacloban, the area hardest hit by the super typhoon, when the accident happened in November.
Corominas recalled the happy disbelief felt on all sides: “We could not believe we actually found him. And the family had no idea that there was an organization that would help him with his lost leg.”
The day before the young mother and son left the country for the first time, Donghit was overwhelmed with gratitude. “I felt very happy and so thankful that someone was going to help my son to walk again, that so many people are helping us,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
When Montanti met Aldrin and his mother at the gate upon their arrival in New York City, she “felt only joy. It felt real good inside that I never gave up trying to find him.”
Aldrin Tadic will soon become a patient at the Shriners hospital in Pennsylvania, where he will be fitted with a prosthetic leg and undergo therapy. Global Medical Relief Fund will sponsor his follow-up care until the age of 21, and Montanti intends to return to the Philippines with him, hoping to find more children in need of new limbs.
“I realized that things are not as random as they seem,” Acuna said. “Whether we’d like to admit it or not, our lives are woven together. There’s a reason we are who we are and why we meet certain people. We are meant to grow from our experiences – and wherever we are is always where we are meant to be.”