Estero woman arranges a 'miracle' for Ecuador teen needing surgery
Saturday, May 5, 2001
By ERINN HUTKIN, Staff Writer
Fourteen year-old Diana Hernandez is different at an age when different is the worst thing one can be.
The Ecuador native has a rare condition called Conradi Hunermann Syndrome. It makes her spine curve awkwardly inward. The curve is getting bigger as Diana grows, which could result in difficulty breathing, pinched nerves and paralysis in addition to cosmetic problems.
The dark-haired girl is teased and taunted. She knows all too well that children can be cruel.
Mirna Ramos, 43, lives in Estero, a world away from Diana. But she knows what the girl is going through. Ramos' daughter, age 16, suffered from scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, that was repaired with an operation two years ago.
Mirna Ramos has never met Diana Hernandez. But when they come face to face, it will change both their lives.
In September 1999, Ramos saw a segment about Diana on the Spanish television network Univision. Since then, she's made it her mission to raise money to bring Diana to the United States for spinal reconstructive surgery.
After a year of writing letters and searching for money around the country, a part-time resident from Marco Island told Ramos he wanted to donate $20,000 for the operation after seeing a letter Ramos wrote about Diana last month in the Naples Daily News.
"I believe in God and I believe in miracles," Ramos said of Diana's trip to America. "This is truly one of them."
Tears of happiness nearly fill Ramos' eyes when she talks about her successful quest to bring the teen to the U.S. But for months, the only things Ramos found was frustration.
After learning about Diana on television, Ramos called Univision, which put her in touch with Diana's family.
Fueled by first-hand knowledge of having a child with a spinal problem, Ramos began asking for help. She wrote to Shriner's hospitals in Tampa and Chicago. Doctors in Fort Myers who helped her own daughter referred Ramos to a children's hospital in Miami, which turned her down.
"It just broke my heart," Ramos said of being rejected.
Ramos wrote to corporations asking for money. She sent letters to Kmart, Microsoft, Procter and Gamble, Campbell's' Soup.
"I wrote and wrote and wrote," Ramos said. "And they all came back the same, 'We regret we are unable to grant your request.'"
She wrote to talk shows telling of Diana's plight. She wrote to Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O'Donnell, to Montell Williams and Maury Povich.
"I prayed, I cried, I prayed and I cried," Ramos said. "I said, 'I'm not going to give up. I have it to it.'"
Late last year, Ramos had a breakthrough. She wrote to Continental Airlines to ask about free airline tickets for Diana and her mother. The airline forwarded Ramos' letter to a Texas agency called CareForce. The charity provides people who need transportation for medical care with travel vouchers donated by spouses of airline pilots.
Last October, an assistant in the office of Dr. Robert Pashman, called CareForce to get plane tickets for a child from China. CareForce mentioned Diana Hernandez to the doctor's assistant. Pashman said he was interested in the case. After Ramos Federal Expressed him Diana's medial records, Pashman agreed to perform Diana's surgery free of charge. However, Ramos still needed over $20,000 for hospital costs.
Not sure where else to turn for money, Ramos wrote to local newspapers explaining Diana's situation. Two days after her letter to the editor ran in the Naples Daily News, Colonial Bank, where Ramos has opened an account for Diana, called to say a Marco man wanted to donate $20,000. The money will be coupled with $11,500 raised by an uncle Diana has never met who lives in Chicago.
"My prayers have been answered," Ramos said. "I will be forever indebted to the gentleman who made it possible"
Ramos said the donor want to remain anonymous, but has asked her in a letter to be updated on the girl's condition. He's even offered to pay Ramos' air fare to California to be with Diana during treatment. Ramos said the donor gave the money because life has been good to him, and he wants to share.
Dr. Pashman said via phone that he believes Diana's spine — which is both curved and twisted — can be fixed with two operations. He said after surgery, Diana will wear a brace for three months.
"I think we can stop the progression of the curve," he said. "I think I can help. We see cases all the time where it just can't be done. But in this particular case is in the realm of possibility."
So now that her job has come to an end, Ramos said she's grateful to those who helped. And she says despite the rejection, sweat, tears and frustration, she does not regret any of the work it took to get Diana to an American doctor.
"If I had to do this again, I'd do it again," she said.
Erinn Hutkin can be reached at 213-6039 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2001 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved.
Published in Naples, Florida. A Scripps newspaper.