A Mother’s Prayer
When Melika’s son Vattu was only a few months old, she realized something was wrong with his eye -very wrong. The doctors at the hospital in Fiji could not do anything about it. Every year his eye got worse, though otherwise he was a healthy, robust boy. Every day she prayed that his eye would get better, but there was no improvement. So when Melika finally heard about our free eye clinic in Fiji, she brought him to Turtle Island to ask us to fix his eye.
Vattu was then 7 years old and aware that he was different from his friends, because they made fun of him. One look told me that while his other eye looked normal and had excellent vision, he had been born with congenital glaucoma in his right eye. This eye had expanded, was blind with no light perception, and simply looked grotesque. The iris of the enlarged eye was blue, in contrast to his brown normal eye. Such a procedure required removing a good-sized portion of the right eye and replacing it with an implant in the eye socket. It would also entail a lot of follow-up care to control pain and swelling, and to prevent infection. The new prosthesis couldn’t be fitted for three to six months after surgery because of postoperative swelling. I don’t perform this type of procedure, and there was no way it could be done in Fiji. We’d have to take him to an eye plastic surgeon and an artificial eye specialist in the United States.
The following year Malika and Vattu returned to Turtle Island for another evaluation. This was a long and difficult trip for Malika as her young husband had passed away, and I admired her aggressive and persistent attempts to solve her son’s problem. This year Vattu appeared more self-conscious and sensitive about his eye, and even I could feel the pressure mounting to have the problem dealt with before he became a teenager. Again, I told his mother that we were doing the best we could for them. Then I added the good news that we’d found a doctor who had offered to do the surgery. But I also had to include the bad news that because this wasn’t an emergency, it might take a long time for her to obtain the proper passports and visas in Fiji. Without much enthusiasm, I invited them to come back to our clinic at Turtle Island every year.
In November, before our next trip to Fiji, a mother and her 5-year old daughter, Vaseva, came into my office in California for an eye examination. They’d flown over from Fiji without my knowledge. The child had crossed eyes, and they had made this trip just to see me and have us take care of the problem. The Verdugo Hills Hospital had always promised they’d provide at least one no-charge surgery for me each year. This particular year I hadn’t performed any free procedures as I hadn’t flown anybody back from Fiji. So I called the hospital to see if we could do the procedure for this little girl. I didn’t receive an immediate answer, for a number of reasons, but the patient’s mother phoned me every day. I told her I was trying, but couldn’t be too demanding of the hospital, since this was to be a no-charge situation.
Week after week went by. Then one morning, Clark Brown, a business executive, came to my office for minor eye surgery. On his first visit he explained he wouldn’t be able to wait for me when he came in, and asked to be seen as soon as he walked in the door. Of course, my office attends to all in the order of their appointment and arrival times. I explained this to him, and then said, “Well if you’re the first patient of the morning or the first after lunch, I probably can accommodate you.”
After I’d been working with this man for a few weeks, I had an unusual occasion to walk a patient up to the front desk. I typically don’t do this because when I do, I run into other patients who want to talk with me, using up valuable time in my busy office schedule. As you can well imagine, time spent in those little talks can add up quickly.
On this particular morning I happened to be in our front office at about 11:00 a.m. and for some reason I glanced into the reception room. To my surprise, I saw Mr. Brown waiting there. I wondered what he was doing there at the end of my morning. Amazingly, at that moment I had no patients waiting for me, so I invited him to come right back for his appointment. After finishing the exam I walked with him to the front desk. I was about to leave him there when the telephone rang at the desk. Mellissa, our receptionist, picked it up. So I engaged Mr. Brown in conversation until she became available to take care of his payment and scheduling needs. Melissa interrupted our conversation by waving her arms in the air. She’d not yet hung up the phone, but she said excitedly, “Dr. Beeve, the hospital will do Vaseva’s surgery!”
Mr. Brown was obviously amazed that she’d interrupted our conversation and asked me what she’d meant. I told him that, after more than a month of waiting, the hospital across the street had finally agreed to do the surgery for a little girl from Fiji, and they would do it at no charge. He asked, “Dr. Beeve, how much are you going to charge for the surgery?” I thought that was an odd and bold question, but I answered, “I won’t charge anything. I go to Fiji every year to do surgery for free, and I don’t charge anyone from there who comes here for eye care.” “You probably don’t know this,” he said, “But I’m the vice president of a major film studio, and I’m also on the foundation board. This year is almost over, and we have about $5,000 we can spend for children of the world. Do you have anybody else who needs care?”
I had taken a picture of Vattu, the little boy with the enlarged eye. So, I went back to my desk to get the photo and showed it to him. Of all the pictures I have from Fiji, this was a recent one, and for some reason I had it in my office. He looked at the picture and said, “This is terrible! It’s gross! Can you fix it?” ’I told him that a certain plastic surgeon had already agreed to make this boy look normal and would do it for no charge. The problem was getting the boy and his mother over here to America. Mr. Brown said, “I promise i’ll bring this situation up to our foundation board, and well take care of this child. Well pay for him and his mother to come here, and well pay for whatever is necessary to take care of this little fellow.”
After he left, it occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember the boy’s name, and had no idea where he lived in Fiji. I had his picture, but I’d only brought the film, not his name home with me. This problem was going to require something special to happen. I had to ask for help. I went to the back room, and my prayer went like this: “Lord, I’m going to make copies of this boy’s picture and sent it to the two major hospitals in Fiji and to the local help we have in our clinic. I pray that you’ll help up find this boy, and that he’ll show up at the Turtle Island clinic next year, just two months from now.” Because the funding from this movie studio might be available for only that year, I immediately made copies of the picture and sent one to each of the persons and hospital eye departments in Fiji that I thought might be able to help me. Then I simply trusted in God to do the rest.
When we arrived in Fiji that year, the minister of health, Dr. Lepani Waqatikeriwa, was invited by the owner of Turtle Island to help with the opening ceremonies for our clinic. Dr. Waqatikeriwa was dressed in a Fijian suit, as it was a hot, muggy day. His assistants were dressed the same way. The bottom part of a Fijian suit is called a sulu. This isn’t pants with separate legs, but is rather like a skirt-and is, of course, a bit cooler than regular trousers would be. (Dorothy actually got me in a sulu once!) Such apparel is especially helpful in Fiji, where air-conditioning can be a rare indulgence. Turtle Island welcomed Dr. Waqatikeriwa and his entourage with a special kava ceremony that the Fijians conduct for very important persons. The ceremony was held outside under many secions of tarp specially created just for this occasion. More than 100 local chiefs and their village assistants from the local islands arrived by boat for this serious and solemn ritual to honor the minister of health. Most of the speeches, which were like chants, were in Fijian. Mine was short and, of course, in English.
After the ceremony, which was almost religious in nature, the kava, presented with distinctive movements and a certain type of clapping of hand, was served. One must drink it from the same coconut shell that the primary dignitaries have used (ugh!). Kava is made from a special root of a plant related to the pepper tree family. It is more gray than brown and tastes a bit like you would expect, looking at its dirty color. Kava has a slight numbing effect in the mouth. If one drinks enough of it, a mood-altering effect occurs, along with strange dreams. After the kava ceremony, Dr. Waqatikeriwa visited our clinic, and I had the opportunity to give him an eye examination and a personal tour. Then, he complimented our work, wished us well, and began preparations to fly back to the main island of Fiji.
As I sat down to examine my next patient and prepare for my turn to do surgery, in walked Vattu and his mother! They had come 70 miles by ocean on an unscheduled boat. Excited, I shook Vatuu’s hand, and gave him a hug. Then I realized the minister of health was probably still on the island. If I asked him to help us get am emergency passport and visa for Vattu and his mom, it might happen. Using the walkie-talkie, I learned that Dr. Waqatikeriwas hadn’t left yet so I requested that someone ask him to wait for me. The minister agreed to meet me at the pier where his pontoon airplane was waiting. So I grabbed little Vattu and started running. As I hurried along, I began rehearsing what I was going to say, after all, I didn’t want to offend the minister of health by implying that this type of procedure couldn’t’ be performed in Fiji because there were no doctors, “good enough” to do it.
When we arrived at the pier, I showed the minister Vattu’s eye. Then I said, “the reason I’ve delayed your leaving, sir, is because I’d like to ask if you will call the minister of immigration and urge his office to expedite a passport for Vattu and his mother. We need to get them on the airplane that is taking my staff and me back to California in just a few days.” I also asked if he would call the U.S. ambassador and encourage him to provide an emergency visa. “I’ll be happy to arrange for both services,” the minister replied.
It was very important that we have his help, because for Fijians to receive a visa from the U.S. embassy can take two years or more. And it can take a similar amount of time to obtain a passport. If we had to wait that long for the documents, all of the free options I’d arranged for would probably no longer be available. And the psychological trauma that would occur as Vattu entered his teen years would affect him for the rest of his life.
The sequence of events in Vattu’s story is amazing. First, Clark Brown, the movie studio executive, had to be standing at my front desk with me at just the right time to hear news of the phone call from the hospital, and I had to have Vattu’s photo on my desk. Then Vattu and his mother had to walk in the door of the clinic on Turtle Island exactly when they did, after arriving on an unscheduled boat that could leave only when it had a full complement of passengers. The minister of health had to be on the island at that moment and be willing to help. All of these things and more happened, with perfect precision. Clearly, this was the will of God at work.
Within just three days Vattu and his mother received their passports and visas, and arrived in the United States soon after. On April 25, just a few weeks later, he had his eye surgery and was given a special implant invented and created by Dr. Steven Dresner, an instructor at UCLA. In other words, the procedure was done by one of the best plastic surgeons in America, at no charge. The recovery time required about three months, and another three months to achieve a proper fit for the prosthesis. This required a prosthesis expert who wasn’t necessarily associated with the plastic surgeon. Stephen E. Haddad, BCO, an oculist, came forward and offered his expert services—worth more than $4, 000—at no charge.
Most of the time when people receive a visa to visit the United States, it expires in just three months. This mother and son were given six-month visas, without the embassy’s having been told anything about the time element involved. And we needed those six months!
When we removed the surgical patch, Vattu wasted no time in getting to a mirror. When he saw his reflection, his face lit up with a huge smile that seemed to become his permanent expression. Vattu also exhibited a sudden attitude change. He began talking up a storm, and his prayers, in Fijian, over each meal became quite verbose. He lost his self-consciousness and inferiority complex. He and his mother were guests in our home for six months. Then on September 21, which was Dorothy’s birthday, Vattu and his mother flew home to Fiji. Their happy flight home was the result of many prayers, most especially eight years of his mother’s prayers and efforts. Conclusion: God loves the children of the world and answers the prayers on their behalf as long as we continue to ask for His help.