The Woman Who Changed Our Lives
Matagalpa, Nicaragua —
By Shermakaye Bass and Maria Farahani
Clara’s leg was broken when she was 10 years old, after escaping an abusive home. Not long after she fled, she stepped in front of a moving vehicle, crushing her right ankle and lower leg, and without hope for serious medical attention, the accident might have sealed her fate: Clara would now have little chance of survival as a run-away.
But the fates underestimated Claribel Zamora Lopez, age 69, who survived all those years, against the odds. A domestic worker with children and grandchildren, the diminutive Matagalpan recently turned up at Fara Clinic after decades of excruciating pain. Her ankle, permanently bent like an elbow pipe, had developed varicose vein disease and eventually ulcerations. The bone was never set properly, the wound never truly healed. Her face told us she had all but given up hope.
Claribel Lopez had an indescribable look of despair the first day she arrived at Fara Clinic
Yet, that day in April would change everything. Not just for Clara, but for those who witnessed her transformation.
Fara Foundation’s Maria Farahani was profoundly moved. She travels to her native Nicaragua to assist with each medical mission, but something about this woman and her story stuck with her, haunted all of us.
“It was April 17, 2012, the second morning of Clinica Fara’s weeklong project of helping Dr. Steven Reeder treat underserved Matagalpan patients who suffer from extreme cases of varicose vein disease and ulcerations,” Maria recalls. “Lucy, our receptionist, was telling someone we could not see from the hallway that the doctor could not treat her this time because he was already overbooked and that she had to wait until a group of U.S. doctors came back in late July. At this, we heard someone break down in sobs. It got our attention. We saw this little woman holding herself on a single wooden crutch, handmade and worn out from years of use. Claribel was petite and weathered.
On her first visit to Fara Clinic: Claribel’s ankle and lower leg, broken 50 years ago, have had ittle medical treatment over decades, creating ulcerations.
“I went into the waiting room and put my arms around her and made her sit down. Someone rushed to bring water to help her calm her sobs. Another volunteer put her arms around Clara and offered her food, for she’d had nothing to eat that day. Though we already had more patients that we could treat, she had an unforgettable look of defeat and helplessness. One of her legs was broken and her foot had a 30-degree angle; she walked on the edge of that foot.
“Between sobs she told us her story: When she was a young girl her father had died and her mother brought a new man into their lives. At age 10, this man tried to rape her, and Clara ran away. She had come to the city of Matagalpa, where strangers eventually took her in. She was on her way to buy tortillas for the family when, unaccustomed in her previous rural life to motor vehicles, she stepped in front of a moving truck, which ran over her leg and broke it in two. Since then, she had dragged that foot, and for the last five years, the injury degenerated into an open wound.
Fara co-founder Maria Farahani and a Fara Clinic staff member consult with an almost inconsolable Clara.
“Kevin Le, Dr. Reeder’s assistant, could not turn away such an exhausted, desperate patient, and he brought her in to be checked. The vein disease was not too severe and did not require surgery, but because of her angled foot she had developed a painful ulcer. She received treatment and was asked to return in two days for follow-up. (Since then, she has returned to the clinic for check-ups and shows steady improvement, but because travel is expensive and cumbersome for her, Fara Clinic’s outreach coordinator now visits her regularly, monitoring her progress until the foundation’s next team of vascular surgeons returns to Matagalpa at the end of July.)
“The thing that struck all of us was how little of our resources Clara required,” Maria observes. “She is so slim and small that for her weekly treatment she only needs half of the Unna boot
(medicated) bandages donated to Fara Foundation and Dr. Reeder. But even more poignant was something she said during her initial interview. Clara told us, ‘You know how it is. When you have, you eat. When you don’t have, you don’t eat.’ We all looked at one another, for none of us had ever gone hungry in our lives.
“That week, Clara was given a pair of aluminum rubber-padded crutches and was added to the Foundation food program so that she may never go hungry again.
Clara’s ankle and lower leg, her first day under Dr. Steven Reeder’s care
“Our staff cannot forget her transformation,” the Fara co-founder concludes. “When she returned the second time that week in April, Clara was a changed person. The expression of pain, despair, hopelessness had given way to a big smile. But it was also those of us who witnessed the event whose lives were changed forever. We will never again complain about insignificant events in our everyday lives, we will be grateful for every morsel of food on our plates and for the great experience to be in a position to help someone receive the very basic assistance. Claribel required so little of our resources during that week, which saw more than 100 patients in five days, and that “little” made it possible for her, still a domestic worker at age 69, to live a better life.”
Several weeks after her first visit, Claribel’s ulcerations and vein disease are improving dramatically. Unfortunately, she’ll never be able to have her ankle straightened.
After 20 years of suffering, today Claribel saw her right foot without ulceration.
This morning, Claribel left the clinic all healed and full of tears of joy!