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A MOUNTAIN, A VOICE AND A GIRL IN NEED

November 27, 2012

From The Orange County Register

Published November 16, 2012

By LORI BASHEDA / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

FIRST OF TWO PARTS
This is a story about Juliana, a girl in Tanzania whose legs are so gnarled, she walks on her knees.

It took a village to bring 16-year-old Juliana from a Tanzanian orphanage to Children's Hospital Orange County to repair her deformed legs. Two local members of the team felt it was a personal mission to help her.

But it's also a story about a Newport Beach mountain climber who befriends the girl at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

It's a story about an Orange County surgeon who wants to give the girl the chance to walk like everyone else.

And what would a story be without its own Mother Teresa: A tea-drinking, vision-seeing British mum, known to children throughout the villages of Tanzania as Mama Lynn?

If you like happy endings, keep reading.


Afshin Aminian is puttering around his Newport Coast condo one day a few years ago when he notices his neighbor limping in a particular manner.

Then Aminian notices another thing. The neighbor's garage door is open, and inside the garage are heaps of some serious climbing gear.

Aminian is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. And while he doesn't want to be rude to his neighbor, he feels compelled to walk over, introduce himself and ask his neighbor if he is aware that he has cerebral palsy.

Indeed he is aware, Bonner Paddock tells the doctor.

And you plan to do some climbing? Aminian asks, gesturing to the gear.

Indeed he does, Paddock says – Kilimanjaro.

Aminian is shocked.

At 19,340 feet, Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the African continent. Aminian wants to make sure Paddock understands the challenge he will face.

Cerebral palsy is a motor disorder caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain – in Paddock's case, at birth. People who have it don't have good control of their limbs or good balance. In thin air, on a freezing cold mountain, Paddock could slip, fall, die.

Paddock knows all about it. He spent his childhood in Mission Viejo tripping over his own feet, falling on the ground, throwing tantrums in frustration and being mercilessly teased.

But there's something else he knows all about: Comebacks.

Feet be damned. Paddock went to college on scholarship as a soccer goalie. He ran a marathon. And, now, he is about to become the first person with cerebral palsy to try to summit the world's largest free-standing peak.

Paddock has just one question for his doctor neighbor: Do you want to be part of it?

The climb is being filmed for a documentary, "Beyond Limits." They need a doctor to give Paddock a physical exam before he leaves for Africa, someone to explain on camera the disadvantages he is going to have to overcome.

And overcome them he does.

On Sept. 7, 2008, Paddock steps onto the highest peak on the African continent. Upon descent, he vows to return one day to give back to the people of Kilimanjaro who treated him so well and protected him on the mountain.

Back home, a Newport Coast neighbor and fellow Kilimanjaro conqueror tells Paddock about a home for orphans at the foot of the mountain, a place called Light in Africa. Maybe he could help them?

It's run by a woman, Mama Lynn. Paddock hires a videographer to go to Light in Africa and check it out.

He gets back 13 minutes of footage showing children who had been found locked in closets and chicken coops; kids with Down syndrome and deformities. Kids who had been shunned by their culture, but who, at Light in Africa, were clothed and fed and comforted in the arms of a no-nonsense British woman wearing a head scarf.

Who is this lady?


Paddock believes in God, but he's not a churchgoing man and he certainly never put much stock in visions.

But when he hears Mama Lynn's story, he's blown away. It's a wild one.

It begins in England, on a market day in 1999. Lynn Elliot is in town, shopping for pork pie, when she hears the voice in her head.

Go to Africa.

So she does what any sane person would do.

She ignores it.

It's her imagination, or perhaps like Scrooge thought when Marley's ghost visited him, a piece of undigested meat.

And she continues walking down the street.

Then she hears the voice again.

Only louder. Clearer.

GO. TO. AFRICA.

Now she's spooked. And stuck. Like a statue.

She wonders if she is having a stroke. Or maybe a mid-life crisis.

Looking around she sees people staring and, just past the faces – a travel agency.

I'd like to go to Africa, she hears herself ask the travel agent.

Yes, madam, Africa is a large place. Where in Africa?

Tanzania pops into her head. Six years ago she had sent a box of dried goods to a pastor there.

Well, madam, I have a very cheap ticket to Tanzania.

Ten minutes later, the door closes behind her and she is back on the street.

Oh my goodness, what have I done?

Back at home, her husband is not amused.

Are you crazy, woman? This one really takes the biscuit! Don't you know mental hospitals are full of people who think God has spoken to them?

Six months later, she is looking at a field of dirty, barefoot, malnourished children at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. What will happen to all these children? she asks her guide.

And this is the answer: Some will die of malnutrition. Some will die of HIV. Some will die of treatable diseases like malaria. Out of all the children you see here today only a small percentage will survive.

Lynn Elliot has a decision to make. It's a decision that could change the lives of countless children, children like Juliana, a girl whose legs are so gnarled, she walks on her knees.

Contact the writer: 714-932-1705 or lbasheda@ocregister.com

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