I’d like to share a story. It’s about a young boy, a toddler really, a doctor, and his daughter. It’s a story of heartache and hope but mostly about lots of heart. It’s one of collaboration, commitment, caring and perhaps most importantly connection. It’s one of those stories worth sharing,not only because it involves a local surgeon, but because it speaks to a spirit in all of us. And since we are entering another spring, seen by many as a season of renewed life and energy, it’s good to be reminded that what connects us is more powerful than what separates us.
A little over five years ago, a boy was born in Afghanistan. He had one good leg. The other was crippled with a rare birth defect assigning him to perhaps a cruel fate.
A little over 70 years ago, another little boy was born in the United States also with one good leg and the other distorted by the same birth defect. That little boy who was surrounded by ranchers and men who worked in the fields suffered with the affliction until at age 16, surgeons amputated a portion of his right leg and gave him a prosthetic one. For him a life changing experience.
He decided to become an orthopedic surgeon.
Decades later, well into his practice, his daughter takes on a job in Afghanistan where she is working on an economic development project. She learns that one of the security guards has a small son. A little son with a deformed leg who has sores on his body from dragging himself around. As soon as she sees this little boy her thoughts and heart fly to her father, to pictures of him suffering from the same fate, but with the faith that he might be able to help. Could she connect the two? Was it possible?
Corresponding, sharing x-rays, raising funds and finally the journey to America and the care of surgeons, nurses, and therapists and you have that same little boy in Afghanistan now working his way down the hallways at the hospital with a walker shouting in his native tongue to “get out of the way.”
It took him no time to fly with a new wing. One given to him by a team of dedicated doctors. When he returned to his home, joining his siblings he left behind a family in heart in Culpeper. The connection made was powerful and empowering. For this surgeon, a way of giving back and confirming for him, that his deformity, was a blessing in disguise. It inspired him to become one of those surgeons who had helped him and now he could help others.
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Dr. Ben Allen walks with a slight limp helped by a cane. For more than three decades he has worked as an orthopedic surgeon. His work at Children’s Hospital in Boston, done years ago, helped him and his colleagues as they looked at the x-rays of a young boy named Yahya Mohammed whose right leg was deformed from a rare birth defect known as Proximal Focal Femoral Deficiency.
It was the same affliction that he dealt with as a little boy. An affliction that led him on a path to becoming an orthopedic surgeon himself.
“He had no actual knee…his foot was rolled under..he’d never walk,” says Allen who works at the Virginia Orthopedic and Spine Center in Culpeper. He learned of the boy’s plight from his daughter Amanda Jane, who was working as a consultant in Afghanistan.
Yahya is the son of Dawod Mohammed, a security guard where Amanda was working.
Amanda was determined to connect this boy with her father. It wasn’t without challenges – would the family let him come to America, getting VISAS, raising funds, making it all happen.
It was in the fall of 2014, when Yahya was three, that he and his father Dawod arrived at Dulles International Airport. Amanda was there to greet them. They stayed at the Allen’s home in Culpeper while preparations were made for his surgery. A gracious hostess, Allen’s wife Mary prepared a Thanksgiving feast and made them feel like family.
Lasting several hours, the outcome was good. Fitted now with a prosthetic, fashioned from the same group in Charlottesville that has helped Dr. Allen, Virginia Prosthetics and Orthotics, Yahya was soon to be off and running.
“It was fabulous…so exciting,” says Allen. “Yahya was smiling..he’s a special kid, very outgoing and optimistic.”
“I have to emphasis that none of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for my daughter and the team approach that was necessary between myself, other surgeons, physicians, nurses and therapists.”
“My father and I have done a lot of special things together,” said Amanda, “but making this connection happen with Yahya has been the most powerful.”
For Allen, it was the same.
“I have to say that next to being married to Mary and having three wonderful children, this experience has been the most special event in my life.”
Allen does not speak Dari but during the time that Yahya and his father were with them, it didn’t matter. They established a bond much like a doting grandfather with his beloved grandson.
“We had a lot of knowing eye contact,” says Allen, “we became fast and famous buddies.”
The Allens continue to communicate with Yahya and his family through shared videos.
“Yahya actually wore out the first foot from playing soccer,” says Allen who said that additional extensions were being sent and that he hopes one day to be able to visit Yahya in Afghanistan.
“For me personally, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to give to someone else what someone had given to me so many years ago and come “full circle,” says Allen who has no immediate plans to retire. “I love what I do.”