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Iluta's Story

Iluta

I met Iluta, from Latvia, on February 22, 2010. We talked about her having dreams. I told her about Dream, Believe, Become. She took out her black book, and she wrote down everything I said to her! I was impressed! Not long after that, we shared email and skype addresses. Iluta had a lot to say about her life. She did have dreams. She was studying Business Administration at her university. She has an interest in tourism.

One day, I was joking with Iluta that I have two birthdays. Iluta told me that she has 2 birthdays also. I told her what happened to me 7 years ago. Iluta told me that something bad happened to her 7 years ago too. She was waiting for a bus to take her to school. Some friends stopped by in their car, and they convinced her to ride with them. They didn't get very far. The car hit a tree. Iluta went through the windshield, hitting her head on the tree. Doctors gave Iluta no chance to survive. She was in a coma for 4 days. She was paralyzed on her right side and she couldn't speak. When Iluta woke up from her coma, the first thing she saw was the cross on the necklace her mother wore. Iluta wears that cross today. Iluta went through rehab for 9 months. She learned to walk again, and she can speak. Her right arm doesn't work very well. Iluta learned to use her left arm and hand to type, write and eat. She suffers from terrible headaches due to the brain injury.

I started to think about DESTINY. In the same year, both of us nearly didn't survive. I remembered the quote from the book "Three Feet from Gold", that nothing in life is a co-incidence. I knew that I needed someone to apply for the J1 visa for Slavka's Dream for the summer of 2010. Iluta had inquired about a job in Belgium for the summer. I asked her if she would consider trying to work in the USA, if we could get her a visa. She agreed. But, there was a problem. Iluta was studying part-time. In Latvia, unlike some other European countries, students must pay for all university studies. Because Iluta was considered an invalid, she could not get good jobs to support her studies. Visa requirements require fulltime students. I told Iluta if she would commit to becoming a fulltime student, I would try to get her the visa. She agreed.

Objective: Get Iluta focused on her studies, full time. Iluta had studied one year in Belgium, partly to improve her English skills. Bringing her to the USA for the summer would force Iluta to practice English every day. Iluta will earn money from her summer job that will allow her to study full time without economic stress. Try to work with Global Travel International to build a travel web site for Iluta to use for extra income when she returns to Latvia. Arrange for Iluta to speak to groups in the USA regarding surviving a brain injury. Try to find ways to strengthen Iluta's right arm. Iluta wants to start her own business when she completes her studies, a business that will hire invalids. She will be "Paying It Forward", a goal of Slavka's Dream.

I proceeded to secure a job for Iluta in Rehoboth Beach. I hired an agency in Latvia to help Iluta with the paperwork necessary to present to the US Embassy in Riga. We thought everything was ok, but she was declined. Latvian students are required to return to school no later than August 31. J1 visas can last up to 4 months, but the rules in Latvia are strict. We had to get a firm quit date from Iluta's USA employer, and I had to buy an airline ticket showing the return date as August 31. I was able to buy a ticket with a 24 hour cancellation policy, but last minute pricing was expensive. Iluta's second interview with the Embassy was successful on June 16. She Left Riga on Friday June 18 for the USA, but not without incident. She arrived late for her flight. The gate was closed. At the last minute, they allowed her onto the plane. Her checked bag became a carry-on. Iluta flew to Copenhagen with no problems, but in Manchester, England, her bag was searched. All liquids over 3 ounces were taken from her, i.e, body wash, lotions, etc. I arrived at Philadelphia International at 2 PM, her scheduled arrival time. I had just walked into the International Arrivals Hall, when I got a text message, "I am here". After about 45 minutes, I saw someone who looked like Iluta. I said hello, and she smiled. She didn't say much at first. I asked if she had any more luggage. Her carry-on was really a carry-on. I wondered how she could have 2.5 months of clothes in such a small bag. As we drove to Delaware, Iluta spoke more. I'm sure we were both nervous. Later, we shopped for food, bought pizza, and I made killer margaritas. Iluta had an instant new friend, Maggie, our young English Setter. I have photos of Maggie sitting on Iluta at the kitchen table!

Before Iluta left Latvia for the USA, I told her that she must promise to bring her beautiful smile with her. She hasn't disappointed. It is such a pleasure to see the joy in her face. Vanilla Coke has become a vice to her!! It is truly amazing how we take things for granted.

I drove Iluta to Rehoboth on Sunday, June 20. I took her to where she would live. The accommodations aren't very good. She will stay in a double -wide trailer with 9 other students. There will be 3 girls in her small bedroom. The location places her about 1.5 miles from her job, but 4 miles from the beach and town. Some students have bicycles. Iluta will save her money and walk. I worry about her walking home in the dark. We drove to the Nike store where I introduced Iluta to her boss. She could start work on Tuesday, if she applied for her Social Security on Monday, which she was able to do. We drove to the state park in Dewey Beach. It was 98 F. We walked several miles on the beach. When I found a dead fish on the sand, I asked Iluta if she knew what it was. She didn't know. When I told her it was a shark, she said, "There are sharks in that water?". After the beach, we drove to Rehoboth. We ate at Nicola's, a pizza slice for me and fries with mayonnaise for Iluta. After a short walk on the boardwalk, I took Iluta back to her trailer.

I met Iluta next on June 30. We went to Cape Henlopen State Park for a day at the beach. It was a nice day, only 80 F. Iluta didn't have a bathing suit. We just sat on the beach for a few hours. We saw about 100 dolphins swimming by. Iluta got burned. Ouch! After the beach, I took Iluta to get an HPV vaccination. The shots cost $300 each in Latvia. I will get her the first 2 shots for $30. She will have to get the third at home. We ate Mexican food for dinner, Iluta's first time to try Mexican. I got a sampler plate, so Iluta could try many types of Mexican foods. The portions were huge. Iluta took a lot of food home with her. I think she likes Mexican food! Oh, I found a nice camera on sale at Costco and I gave it to Iluta to capture some memories.

The summer job is going well. She loves her work. She does wish that she was working more hours. I have some work at my father's house that needs to be done. That will help her a bit. In the meantime, she is looking for a second part-time job.

I next saw Iluta on July 8. We had been having record breaking hot weather with no rain. 2 days were over 103 F. This day was about 85. I took Iluta to Pac Sun to get a bathing suit, then we went to Cape Henlopen State Park again. I brought my camera and a zoom lens, in case dolphins were near. They were! I got several photos. It was a hazy day. Iluta said she wouldn't get burned, but I knew better. I made her put lotion on. After several hours, I took Iluta to IHOP to apply for a second job, then we went to a Japanese restaurant, again a first for Iluta. There were 9 people at our hibachi table. The chef was very funny. He scared Iluta with a big flame, but she laughed too! Iluta doesn't like seafood, but this night, she ate shrimp. I ordered chopsticks for the table. The 7 Americans declined. Iluta tried and she could do it! She ate her whole meal with chopsticks! Wow!

I've been writing letters to various people and organizations while Iluta has been in the USA. I wrote to a plastic surgeon I know. Iluta has some scar tissue on her face from her accident. Since she has no insurance at home, it hasn't been repaired...until now! Dr. Francis DeLone will see Iluta and repair her face on Friday, July 16. Iluta is so excited!

I drove to Rehoboth early on the 16th. We had a lot to do. I started by going to Motor Vehicle in Dover to try to get Iluta a temporary State of Delaware photo ID card. There were 45 people ahead of us. I decided to move on. We went to PNC and opened a bank account for Iluta. I tried Motor Vehicle again on Airport Road, but we couldn't even get in the door! Later I tried at the Wilmington office. There were no parking places to be had. It turns out that the back-up was due to the new national ID Delaware driver's licenses. Delaware decided to be first into this venture, and obviously, they are not prepared.

So off we went to Dr. DeLone's office in North Wilmington. Iluta was asked for her insurance card. J21 visas require that students have insurance, but Aenta, not surprisingly, was challenging Iluta before she ever arrived to see Dr. DeLone. A staff member said that the card would be copied, but that Dr. Delone would not bill the insurance company! Wow! When they called Iluta back, she was a little upset. With a few tears in her eyes, she told me that she was afraid. I told her that I would leave the room. I met with Dr. DeLone, then I went to the waiting room. After about 15 minutes, the doctor and patient emerged. Dr. DeLone had repaired the scar and tissue. He found glass still under her skin after 7 years! Dr. DeLone explained to me what he had done, and went over post-op care. Then , without notice, a precious moment occurred. Iluta looked at Dr. DeLone. Her knees buckled, and she threw open her arms for a hug! There wasn't a dry eye in the office! Later, Iluta told me that her doctors in Latvia must have expected her to die, so they didn't bother to remove the glass from her face. We bought hamburgers at Jake's for dinner, and sipped on a few killer margaritas, later mango margaritas. Donna and Meg had just gone through old clothes which we were going to take to Goodwill. Iluta found several items that appealed to her.

While I was talking to Iluta in Dr. DeLone office, I asked her if she had any other problems or issues that were a result of the accident. She said no, but her vision wasn't very good. She thought that glasses would make her look smarter. Later that I evening, we were looking at photos on the computer. I noticed that Iluta was wearing glasses, especially for school. I shot off an email to my good friend, Gerry Resnick, an exceptional optometrist. Gerry wrote back that "he was at my service, as always. Bring Iluta in to see him".

About a week before, I had written to Channel 6 ABC Action News. I hadn't heard anything. I sent a brief follow-up regarding Iluta's experience with Dr. DeLone. On Monday afternoon, I received a call from Johnnie Braxton, the news editor. She wanted to know when Iluta would be available to do a story! We will try for the first week in August! Iluta wrote me this text message, "I think that my life is changing and getting better...Now I have the stimulus to end my school and to do the best because of you and also other people who helped me."

August 2: I took Iluta to the Back Clinic in Wilmington. My hope was that the director, Ellen Levine, could examine Iluta's residual paralysis, and possibly find a way to give Iluta more strength and motion, especially in her right arm and hand. Ellen found that Iluta's core was off center. She has given Iluta several co-ordination and agility exercises. Iluta has strength in her arm, about 10% less than in her left. Ellen has hope that with a few more treatments, Iluta will gain more use of her arm and hand. She feels that Iluta will be able to type again! We scheduled two more visits with Ellen.

August 3: I took Iluta to see Dr. Trent Ryan, a chiropractic neurologist. The goal was to try to find relief for Iluta's daily headaches. Doctors in Latvia have told Iluta that she must learn to live with her headaches. Dr. Ryan found imbalance in her legs. He also found that her neck is not in alignment, which may be the cause of the headaches. Dr. Ryan gave Iluta exercises to stimulate the left side of her brain. He is convinced that Iluta can gain function of her arm and hand. Dr. Ryan gave Iluta some chiropractic adjustments. We scheduled two follow-up visits before Iluta goes home.

Later in the afternoon, I took Iluta to see my good friend, Gerry Resnick, an optometrist. Iluta received the first real eye exam of her life! She has astigmatism and her vision was 20/30. Vision can certainly be a part of her headache problem, and could affect her balance. Iluta picked out a very pretty set of frames. We took lots of photos. Iluta will pick up her new glasses in two weeks. Dr. Resnick told Iluta that her fee for her glasses will be a gift from Latvia, and a very big hug. Iluta smiled and agreed to this arrangement.

After an exciting day, we bought some burgers and drank margaritas! I bought Maggie a new toy. Iluta gave it to her. Maggie was so excited! She played and made the toy squeak for a long time until she fell asleep. We watched Young Frankenstein, then it was time for bed. Maggie slept with Iluta 2 nights in a row.

August 4: I drove Iluta to Baltimore to visit the National Aquarium. The dolphin show was wonderful, but Iluta thought it wasn't long enough!! I found that Iluta loves turtles. After 3 hours we went outside to some shops in the Inner Harbor. We toured the submarine USS Torsk. It was about 4 P.M., rush hour. Last year, I sat in traffic for 2 hours trying to get out of Baltimore. We decided to get something cold to drink. I picked out Tir Na Nog, an Irish restaurant. We drank Irish beer and chips. I ordered a crab cake to share. Iluta doesn't like seafood. She tried a small piece, then another, then another!! She ate her half. She said, "It's nice!". I learned this week that Iluta likes bagels and cream cheese, more firsts. To let traffic totally clear out, we took a cruise of the Harbor on the new speedboat, the Seadog. (Who let the dogs out? Woof, Woof, Woof, Woof!) What a great way to see Baltimore. And, the WBAL TV helicopter filmed our ride for the evening news! I drove Iluta back to Rehoboth!

I was texting Iluta today, August 9. I told her how proud I was of all she's accomplished this summer. Iluta wrote back to me, I'm proud of me also...I was typing you with my right hand."

August 12: Iluta agreed to help me clean the attic at my father's house. It was raining. We can be thankful for that! It was still very hot in the attic. I was completely wet. I had to change clothes when we finished after 3 hours. I drove Iluta to Ocean City, Maryland. She had been there a few weeks earlier for a party at night. This time, she could see the beautiful scenery during the day. We were hungry, so I took her to Piezano's Pizza. These pizzas are awesome. We split half of a Hawaiian pie and we each had a beer. I ordered a European pie to go. Iluta loved her pie and she ordered half a Hawaiian pie to go, as well. I had won 2 free games of miniature golf at Old Pro the year before. Iluta had never played miniature golf. It was very hot and humid. The place was very busy. Iluta was very competitive. She shot a hole-in-one, and overall she did very well, considering she has difficulty holding the club. It took 2 hours to play 18 holes, so we decided not to play another round. I drove back to Rehoboth, where we stopped at the Sony Outlet store. Iluta found a nice laptop for a very reasonable price. She needed a computer for her studies. She had a big smile on her face as we left the store.

August 17: I picked Iluta up at 9:45. She had a noon appointment with Ellen at The Back Clinic. Ellen was amazed at the progress that Iluta had made in just 2 weeks. She had been doing her exercises! Ellen spent an entire hour working with Iluta. She gave her many more exercises to do. I do some of these same exercises daily, so we will work on these exercises together next week. Ellen told me that Iluta is fortunate that she is getting therapy now, while she is still young and nimble. She said that Iluta would not be able to recover if she had waited until she was 30 years old. Iluta wants to dance again. Ellen has challenged her! We drove to Dr. Resnick's office to get her glasses! Iluta can see! The glasses look great on her! I want to thank Dr. Resnick for assisting Iluta at no charge! In the evening, we cooked an Irish meal, corned beef and cabbage. Iluta choose to eat green beans. We boil the meat for 3-4 hours, and then it is baked for 20 minutes with a glaze made from catsup, mustard and brown sugar. It was awesome! I made more killer margaritas. Meg, Iluta and I watched Alice with Johnny Depp. Maggie stayed in Iluta's room, but she slept under the bed. She doesn't like thunderstorms. Iluta hates these storms too. She thought Maggie could cuddle with her so they both would be safe!

August 18: We visited Dr. Ryan at 11:00. He, too, thought that Iluta had made progress. He adjusted her neck and back, especially on her right side. He noted a deficiency in Iluta's eye movement. Her eye skips as she looks to the left, again a brain issue that the doctor is correcting. More exercises were prescribed. We see Dr. Ryan again on the 31st. It was pouring rain. I couldn't see the road as we passed through Milford. Iluta was anxious to go back to Rehoboth. She has a date tonight!

August 24: Yesterday was Iluta's last day at Nike. I picked up Iluta at 2:30 PM. Wow! She had lots of things to take home! We loaded the car, then Iluta said said goodbyes and gave lots of hugs to her roommates. She was very upset! I held her hand as we drove home. The ride home was mostly silent, except for the sound of music from the car radio. During the next week we had several moments like these. I didn't want to make Iluta upset. We had chicken breasts sauteed with a raspberry sauce for dinner, followed by some more of the now famous killer margaritas. Everyone went to bed early. We had a train to catch in the morning.

August 25: We left for New York City at 7 AM from the Wilmington train station. We arrived in New York at about 9. It was raining. Our room wasn't ready, so we left our luggage in baggage claim. We took the subway Uptown to the Natural History Museum. Iluta preferred the Metropolitan Art Museum. I would have gladly gone there, but she declined to make me feel better. After a few hours, we went back to claim our bags and to get our room. We decided to see a Broadway musical. Since it was raining, we tried to see the show that night, but the show, Rock of Ages, wasn't playing on Wednesday. We booked for Thursday. We got dressed to go out. Iluta wore heels. She was almost as tall as me. We walked to Times Square. I took Iluta to The View at the top of the Marriott Marquis. The elevator ride was exhilarating! We were seated by a window. After a few moments, Iluta said, "We're moving!". Yes, we were, one revolution per hour. We both ordered Long Island Iced Teas. We were feeling pretty good after 2! Iluta wanted lasagna for dinner. We ordered, but the iced teas had taken their toll! I guess we should have stopped at 1.5 drinks each. :) Back at the room, I gave Iluta a hug, while we talked about private matters and demons in her life. She fell asleep in my arms!

The next morning, we had to get up at 6:30. I'd scheduled a tour of the Statue of Liberty. We were to meet the guide at 8, near our hotel. Georgiana was late. She looked like a bag lady, but she was great. She was very informative and funny. We took the subway as a group to Wall Street, where Georgiana explained the origins of New York. Then, we took the boat to Liberty Island. Our tickets allowed us to climb the pedestal of the Statue, 156 steps. Our legs were tired, but Iluta was disappointed we didn't have tickets to go to the crown. The Park Service only allows 120 people a day to visit the crown. We took the boat back to Battery Park on Manhattan. I found the deli where Anetka and I ate last summer. Iluta and I both had pizza and a coke. We walked to Pier 12 where we had tickets to ride the speedboat, The Shark. The ride around the Island was great. We got wet! One of the boat's crew was spraying people with a water gun, just in case the waves didn't soak us! We took a subway to the Empire State Building. The lines inside were long. It probably took 1.5 hours to reach the viewing area. It was nice. I had tickets for the motion ride, the New York SkyRide. Iluta loved it! We tried to hail a cab back to the hotel without success. We decided to walk the 20 blocks. We arrived at the hotel at 6:15. We still needed to get dressed and eat. We found a nice Thai restaurant, where Iluta ate duck in yellow curry. She loved it, another first! We walked to the theater. The show, Rock of Ages, was awesome, great music and dancing, and very funny. After dinner, we stopped at the same Italian restaurant as the night before. They were closed, but we were able to order tiramisu and a drink, a chocolate martini for Iluta! Back at the hotel we drank some Asti I'd brought along, then went to sleep.

We slept late on Friday, walked to the corner to get some coffee and pastries, and then Iluta bought some New York souvenirs. Our train left New York at 2PM. We arrived in Wilmington at about 4. We did some banking, then went to Ioannino's for great Italian Hoagies! It was soon margarita time again, followed by air hockey. Iluta loved this game! Wow, is she competitive! She beat me, but she was no match for Meg.

August 28: Another new adventure was scheduled for today: horseback riding. Iluta was so excited when she got out of the car. She had a big smile on her face! However, before she got on her horse, Indy, she told me that, "I'm a bit worried." I told her she would be fine. We rode for about 1.5 hours around Lums Pond State Park. Iluta loved it! She wants to ride again! In the evening, we drove to Baltimore for a special dinner at Roy's. The table was waiting for us! Colored ribbon laced the table with a special framed message, "Bon Voyage, Iluta". Dinner was awesome, as always. Unfortunately, Iluta left her passport at home. They couldn't serve her drinks. We were all disappointed. Iluta ordered pork, but she tried and liked the seared ahi tuna and the crab cake! So much for not liking seafood! The people at Roy's took photos of us and framed them. We all went to bed early this night.

August 29: Sunday morning. I don't know why, but this day to me was the most special day of the summer! Iluta was in a great mood! We went to Super G for some supplies, then to a liquor store. We were too early for the liquor store, so we went window shopping in a KMart. We did have very special plans for this day. Iluta wanted to ride bikes. We gave it a shot. She asked that I lead. I heard a crash! She fell and cut her hand and elbow! She tried again and again. I saw pain in her eyes, but she wouldn't give up. She rode a bit, then stopped. This happened several times. I asked her what was happening. She was turning the bike to the left and her right arm couldn't pull the bike back to straight. I started to ride behind her. I told her to concentrate. She did it! We rode about 2 miles, then took a break for water. It was 95 F. After about 20 minutes, we rode another 2 miles! Iuta said, "Can we do this again tomorrow?" For dinner, we had Mike Gallagher's BBQ Shrimp. Who was it that didn't like seafood? Then we had corn tacquitos with jalapeno jelly. It was great. Iluta wanted to take Maggie for a walk. I took Sham and we walked a mile together. The dogs were so happy! We would walk again on Monday. We learned how to make chocolate martinis. They are mostly alcohol. 2 of them were enough. We had a very good talk about several topics, then it was off to bed. This schedule was catching up to all of us!

August 30: We started a Michael Gallagher's Jewelers. Iluta was given her acrylic rose, in person. She picked a very pretty dark red rose. The Gallagher's gave us their usual nice discount for my girls! We then drove to Newark. I took Iluta into town to but a University of Delaware t-shirt. She picked a very pretty black/white new design. From there, it was off to Planned Parenthood for the 2nd of 3 HPV vaccinations. At noon, Iluta had her final physical therapy session with Ellen. Ellen was amazed to hear about the bike and the horse. Both were excellent therapies for Iluta, but we never thought about it that way. Ellen encouraged Iluta to pursue her dream...to try to dance again. Ellen prescribed some additional exercises, especially for Iluta's abdominal muscles. It's truly amazing how much Iluta changed since her first visit with Ellen. I have the same feeling! Ellen has done wonders for me! We drove to the beach to get Iluta's last check from Nike and to deposit it. I'm sure that this was difficult, but as usual, Iluta said, "it's ok!". We drove home. We rode 2 miles on the bikes, then we ate some spaghetti and meatballs. We walked the dogs again, then tried a drink Iluta wanted to make, a Blue Lagoon. They were "nice", as Iluta would say. We talked for a while, then we again went to bed early.

August 31. I couldn't sleep. I was thinking of things to say today, but many things went unsaid. We went to Doctor Ryan's for a final time. He adjusted Iluta, and he stressed that she must do her exercises. She did have an excuse this time. She was a very busy girl these past weeks. Dr. Ryan was also impressed at Iluta's improvement! We are still hoping that Channel 6 will allow us to bring Iluta back soon for her interview. A hug with Dr. Ryan bought more tears! We drove back to the house. I helped Iluta to finish packing. We had 2 hours to kill! I let Iluta try my Chi exercise machine, and then we played air hockey! I finally beat her! It was time to go. Meg had gotten home from UD early. She and Iluta hugged with some tears! And, Iluta got many hugs from Maggie! Maggie slept with her during the night! Iluta kept asking Maggie "Will you go home with me to Latvia?". We had one more stop to make before the airport. Iluta wanted to thank Dr. DeLone for what he had done for her. It was an excellent idea. Dr. DeLone inspected her scar, and told her it was coming along nicely. We took several photos. I told Dr.DeLone that he had no idea what he had started! Without his generosity, none of this summer's magic would have happened. I will share with this story with Dr. DeLone, as he hasn't been in the loop. He will be now! I'm hoping that more will happen for Iluta with her new "Circle of Friends".

At the airport, everything seemed to happen so quickly. A very nice agent for US Air moved us ahead of others. She did her best to make Iluta's travel worries go away. The next thing I knew, we were in the security line. Things did go unsaid! We hugged and we cried! I told Iluta that I would miss her. She said, "I will miss you too." Donna didn't want to upset Iluta the night before, or on the phone at the airport. But, she told me to ask Iluta if she might want to visit during the year, including Christmas! Iluta looked up at me briefly while playing with her passport. She said, "I'd love to visit you at Christmas!". Before I knew it, she was gone. It was a sad moment, but I smiled a lot on the drive home. How rewarding it is to help others! As we were driving from our house, Iluta asked that I send her photos from Dr. DeLone's office. I told her that I would. I also told her that I would send her this story when I finished writing it. She told me that the story isn't over.......

Conclusion: Where do I start? How did all of this happen? We had never even seen each other's faces until her arrival in Philadelphia. Iluta told me that I usually know girls better before I do something for them. She was the exception. Iluta was EXCEPTIONAL! She made everything happen. I opened some doors for Iluta. She knocked the doors down. Iluta went home with so much confidence. You could see it in her smile, and even in her posture. She had overcome a lot of demons, including personal things we won't discuss. I saw a girl who couldn't walk straight go home with a perfect walk. I saw a girl learn to crawl again. I saw a girl fight with all her might to ride a bike, even when her confidence was shaken by a bad fall! Most importantly, Iluta will go home to begin her studies full time. She knows that she can do it now! We also know that Iluta will qualify to finish her studies in the USA on an internship in her major. Yes, we have to find her a sponsor or a scholarship, but after what has been accomplished thus far, that part should be easy! Iluta, Welcome to the Winner's Circle! To be continued....

Meeting Iluta

I was desperately looking for another J1 student in 2010, after the success with Aneta. I met Iluta in March. One day, I joked with her that I had two birthdays. She told me that she did as well. Iluta was clinically dead from a car accident in 2003, the same year as my death. Destiny was calling. Iluta is still partially paralyzed from the accident. She was going part time to university, with no direction. I made her a deal. I told her if she would agree to go full time, I would try to get her a J1 visa for the summer. She agreed.

When I met Iluta for the first time after getting off the plane, I noticed a lump on her face. She told me it was from her accident. I contacted Dr. DeLone, a plastic surgeon. He agreed to see Iluta. He waived the insurance and fixed her face for free. A piece of glass from the car windshield seven years earlier was still imbedded in her face. Iluta cried. She said they left her to die in Latvia because she had no insurance. Later, Dr. Resnick examined and fitted Iluta with her first set of glasses. I took Iluta to New York and Baltimore that summer, but the best was yet to come. Ellen Levine at the Back Clinic taught Iluta how to walk straight. Before she was to go home, Iluta asked me if she could try to ride a bike. She hadn't been able since the accident. We tried...and she fell...and she fell. She was bleeding, but she still wanted to try. Her right arm wasn't strong enough to steer the bike straight. I corrected what she was doing wrong. She rode 2 miles, took a break, then wanted more. What a great confidence builder that day was! Tears were shed.

At the airport, we were saying our goodbyes, when my wife called. She told me to say goodbye to Iluta, and then asked if Iluta would like to spend Christmas with us. Iluta's face lit up. She accepted. Iluta's family was broken. She had a place to spend her Christmas.

While Iluta was here for Christmas, we secured a summer job for her for 2011. Iluta was so excited. She arrived in June. That summer, Iluta made some friends, spending most of her time at the beach. The last week in the USA was one Iluta will never forget. We had a 6.1 earthquake on a Tuesday, she was evacuated from the beach for the impending hurricane on Friday, and she experienced the hurricane from the safety of my house the next day. She was crying. The winds made her afraid.

Iluta received her bachelor's degree in Business Management in Latvia. She is currently finishing her master's degree in International Business . What a change a person's life can take when someone believes in them and gives them a chance to succeed.

Update July 15, 2013: Remember the girl who learned how to ride a bike with me three summers ago? Iluta just informed me that she rode her bike 110 kilometers (65 miles) this past weekend! Are you kidding me? She is in training for something, but she didn't tell me what for.

Update August 14, 2013 Iluta is writing her master's thesis. Her advisor is from the University of Delaware, my school and Meg's. He knows Iluta spent time in Delaware. He has enrolled her in a special project. She is working with students from major universities like Cambridge, Queen's College, et al. I'm very proud of her.