Pictured, from left are Patti Bellare, Valdisa Santos and Maureen Bellare at Santos’ final fitting appointment at Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics in Hattiesburg.

HATTIESBURG- Thanks to the combined efforts of a local family, many friends and several businesses, a Brazilian woman will soon be on her way home with a new spring in her step.

Valdisa Santos, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is the recipient of a new prosthetic leg, thanks to the caring hearts of a group of Pine Belt residents and businesses. During a medical mission trip to Brazil, Santos met three members of the Bellare family – Nagen Bellare, M.D., a hematologist/oncologist at Forrest General’s Cancer Center; his wife Patti Bellare, a nurse at Lowery A. Woodall Outpatient Surgery Center, and their daughter, Maureen, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The family was part of a group from First Baptist Church of Hattiesburg that traveled to the country during the summer of 2009 to construct a new church and provide medical care. The medical team consisted of three physicians, including Dr. Bellare. The team also had the advantage of Patti Bellare’s nursing skills, and also utilized daughter Maureen, who will soon begin nursing school, as a medical assistant.

Santos was one of several local people who volunteered to assist in the clinic that saw more than 100 patients a day, which was set up in half of a grocery store. Santos volunteered to assist patients in filling out forms and performing other miscellaneous duties, including cleaning the floor as it quickly became covered in dirt brought in from the city’s roads.

“She was non-stop all over the place – cleaning the floors or getting people to fill out forms,” said Maureen Bellare. “I saw her limping and I didn’t know why, and after asking I learned that she had a prosthetic leg. The last day we were there she asked if we had any medication left, because it was hurting her. She was so selfless the whole time, doing stuff for everybody else and waiting to see if we had anything leftover for her when she was in pain. It grabbed at my heart.”

Santos, who lost her leg in an accident at age 11, had been through several prosthetic legs as she grew, and had outgrown her current prosthesis, which was five years old. Because of the ill-fitting prosthesis, her limb had grown infected and caused Santos a great deal of pain. After seeing Santos’ need, Bellare says she was reminded of her grandfather, who had recently passed away. She noted that when her grandfather was a young man, he had also helped a man in Portugal get a prosthetic leg, which inspired Bellare to continue his legacy by helping Santos.

Maureen returned to the U.S. with her family, and still found that the vision of Santos’ smile and her need for help weighed on her heart. After much prayer and several emails to organizations she knew of, the International Fund for the Physically Disabled (IFPD) responded and volunteered to help. With the IFPD’s help, each detail seemed to fall into place as Maureen was able to get the necessary paperwork back to Santos through a mission team from Tennessee and a missionary in Brazil, Karen Gray, who had worked with Maureen’s mission team.

The IFPD coordinated the donation, and also provided a large part of the funding for the prosthesis, however, many others chipped in to make this experience possible for Santos. Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics in Hattiesburg, a division of Methodist Rehabilitation Services in Jackson, provided the labor in creating the prosthetic, along with additional donated parts from companies like Methodist Rehab Services and Ossur.

Keith Frost, CPO, of Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics, noted that the prosthetic that Santos is receiving will offer her even greater advantages, thanks to additional upgraded features. “In Brazil they wear a lot of sandals, and so she wanted a foot that could wear a sandal between the toes,” said Frost. “Normal prosthetic feet don’t do that, and the one we received didn’t have that, but a lot of people donated money so they could upgrade to that type of foot. A lot of people are really chipping in.”

Frost says that there are even more custom parts made possible by donations that will be sent home with Santos, including things that will help her put on the prosthesis and help it hold on better if she is more active.

Santos, who is staying with the Bellare family while in the U.S., has also been fortunate to receive therapy treatment from First Place Physical Therapy in Columbia, owned by Carroll Brown. Brown was also a member of the First Baptist mission team to Brazil with the Bellare family, and after learning about Maureen’s quest to help, he volunteered to provide therapy and referred the family to Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics for their assistance. Santos attended three therapy sessions with Brown and his staff, learning how to move with her new prosthetic, and will soon be on her way home with a new leg and a renewed sense of confidence.

Through Santos’ conversations in Portuguese, translated by missionary Karen Gray, it is easy to hear the joy in her voice and the gratefulness in her heart for the Bellare family and the others who have made this possible. Santos says that though she was anxious and nervous because of the unfamiliarity of her destination and what lie ahead, she was excited to receive her new leg because of how much it would improve her quality of life.

Gray translated Santos’ words of appreciation, saying that now Santos would have no more pain, and that she would now be able to contribute more to her household. Santos thanked God first, stating that he had been in control of all of this coming together, and thanked the friends who had helped make all of this possible, especially Maureen and the Bellare family for receiving her as though she were a member of their own family.

Story courtesy of Forrest General Marketing and Communications.