David Lauderdale

Help give a child a fighting chance in life

Pictures of Oscar's scars are too graphic to show in the newspaper.

The 13-year-old boy from Texcoco, Mexico, would understand.

He won't go outside without a hood and long sleeves to cover himself, even in this heat.

He is not going to school.

He usually goes out only in the evening, when he scrounges for food for his mother and younger sibling.

Oscar was badly burned in a house fire. His father got him out, but lost his own life.

To doctors, the physical deformities of Oscar's face and body are not the main problem. Functional problems are. Burn scars prevent him from extending his right arm or moving his neck.

But Oscar has stumbled into new hope, here in the Lowcountry.

He will be flying to Hilton Head Island in a few days to be given a fighting chance in life.

He will be operated on time and again. He may use his full six-month visa while being treated free through the Rotary Club's Gift of Life program.

Oscar first had to be convinced that this promise would not be like others that had turned out to be empty.

He was discovered in his historic hometown by Florence Allbaugh, who for years headed the Gift of Life program started at the Hilton Head Island Rotary Club in 1996. Florence, who now lives in North Carolina, was in Texcoco to lay groundwork for a different Rotary effort, in which a visiting dental team will treat more than 800 orphans, street kids, mothers and students in the poorer schools.

Oscar was befriended by his town's mayor and a leader in the town's Rotary Club. They will help get him here, where Hilton Head Hospital and staff will treat him at no cost, and Dr. David Reid of Hilton Head Plastic Surgery will donate his services. Dr. Robert A. Laughlin, who helped start the program, has retired, but still acts as medical coordinator for Gift of Life.

Laughlin said host families are needed to house Oscar and a nurse who will be coming with him. Hosts are needed for two weeks at a time, or preferably four. It would be helpful, but not necessary, if hosts are bilingual. For details, call Rotarians Betty Fowlkes, 843-341-7901; Bruce Pitkin, 843-785-5700; or Laughlin, 843-681-7277.

Laughlin said he sometimes gets letters from former Gift of Life recipients from around the globe. One sent a picture of herself as a nurse in the Philippines.

I asked Allbaugh how it could help to treat one child in a world full of hurt.

"It may be one small child in a big world," she said, "but you never know what their potential will be to help others down the road.

"We cannot help them all. But if we can help one child, that is one less child in need in the home community, and one additional child to help others in the future.

"They are just as important as any other child in the world."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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