Maya Gurung's left leg was amputed after it was crushed in the earthquake
Doctors told her the wait for a prosthetic leg would be long
But then, her luck changed
Sometimes, life takes twists so fortuitous that they seem inevitably predetermined. That may be the case for Maya Gurung, a 10-year-old girl suffering in post-earthquake Nepal.
I met Maya in Kathmandu earlier this month and told her story on CNN.com. She lost her lower left leg in the April 25 quake and suddenly, her already hardscrabble life became that much harder. She was a poor girl living on unforgiving Himalayan terrain. Without a limb, her life took an ominous turn.
Maya and her father, Bhim Bahadur Gurung, had held high hopes that the doctors who treated her at a Kathmandu hospital would fit her for a prosthetic leg. But the hospital was overwhelmed after the earthquake. Maya would have to wait for many months, the doctors told her father.
Without money, Gurung plucked his crippled daughter from Bed No. 41 in the female surgical unit, put her on his back and began a long and arduous journey home to Kasi Gaon, their village in Gorkha District.
Maya might have made it home, to a wrecked village where few houses stood unscathed. She might have lived out her life as a burden to parents who struggle to feed and house their family. She might have suffered rejection, as her father worried, and grown into a woman who no man would marry.
But on the afternoon of May 12, what might have been changed.
A second earthquake rocked the Himalayas, and Maya’s life trajectory took yet another turn.
A chance encounter
A storm of dust, rocks and houses hurtled down soaring mountains in Nepal’s Gorkha District on the day of the first earthquake, as though the place were being bombed. A boulder crushed Maya’s left leg.
Almost two days later, she was airlifted to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu. Doctors said they had no choice but to amputate. When I first met her, Maya was wincing in pain, hot tears streaming down her dusty cheeks.
I sat on her hospital bed over several afternoons and spoke with her father. He lamented that Maya’s chances at a normal life had slipped away as fast as the blood had spilled from her body.
After I left Nepal, I tried to stay in touch with Maya’s father through journalist Ayush Khadka, who worked with me in Kathmandu. I learned Maya had left the hospital but after that, calls would not go through on her cell phone.
Unbeknownst to me, Maya and her father had reached the village of Rumchet on the day of the second earthquake. There, they were spotted by Jwalant Gurung, a University of Washington graduate and a Nepalese climber with a purpose.
Heaven dotted with pockets of hell
For his MBA project in 2006, Jwalant Gurung organized a fundraising climb of Mount Rainier to further rural education in Nepal. He’s been doing it ever since through his charity 3 Summits for Nepal, which has raised $200,000 and built six schools.
Gurung was in Nepal during the April 25 earthquake and immediately flung himself headlong into relief operations. Singla, a village near the epicenter, was home to one of his guides and several of his porters. The tragedy had become personal.
Gurung began ferrying emergency supplies up to villages in Gorkha, the district hardest hit by the April 25 earthquake. He had walked for two days to reach Rumchet with tarps, medicine, blankets and rice when the second quake struck. All around him, there was dust and chaos. Homes crumbled or stood precariously on ledges, just waiting for a landslide to take them down.
When he spotted Maya on the back of her father, trekking home, he knew he could help. He asked whether he could take father and daughter back to Kathmandu.
“I assured Maya’s father that I would take care of her,” Gurung said. “I told them I had a friend who was a doctor.”
His friend, Bibek Banskota, is no ordinary doctor. Banskota’s father, Ashok Banskota, is an orthopedic surgeon who returned home many years ago from America to treat underprivileged children living in Nepal’s remote villages. Children like Maya.
He opened the nonprofit Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children (HRDC) in 1986 and has helped thousands of kids suffering from cleft foot, tuberculosis of the spine and other crippling ailments. The hospital specialized in pediatric orthopedics for marginalized children.
Bibek Banskota followed his father’s calling and he, too, became an orthopedic surgeon.
Jwalant Gurung knew the Banskotas would be able to fit Maya with a prosthetic leg.
“Could I bring this girl to your facility?” he asked Banskota on the telephone. The answer, of course, was yes. He then had to convince Maya’s father to turn around and return to Kathmandu.
The scenario played out like a heavenly dream after weeks of nightmares for Bhim Bahadur Gurung. Maybe now, his daughter would have a chance at some sort of normalcy.
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A lucky intervention
One day late last week, I received a phone call from Pam Perry, director of operations for Grand Asian Journeys, a Seattle-based travel company founded by Jwalant Gurung. She had read the story about Maya on CNN.com and recognized her to be the girl rescued by Gurung. It was only then that I learned of Maya’s good fortune.
I called Dr. Banksota, who had been treating Maya for the last few days.
He told me she was lucky to have had a below-the-knee amputation. Her maneuverability would have been severely hampered otherwise.
“The operation was performed very well,” he said. “But the stump is still healing.”
Banskota had just measured Maya’s leg in order to fit her for a prosthetic one. But she would have to wait a few weeks before she was ready.
“Most of these kids in rural Nepal have extremely hard lives,” he said. “A lot of things we take for granted, they don’t have. I am always amazed at how resilient these kids are.”
He said he drew inspiration from Maya’s smile.
He could see she was happier in the hospital, surrounded by other children, some of whom are also amputees. It must give her some comfort to see that she is not the only one.
Outside Banskota’s hospital, rows of tents house earthquake victims still needing care; doctors have been working around the clock since April 25. Maya, I thought, was in capable hands.
I had pictured Maya sitting in one corner of a one-room house, no longer able to dart from village to village on rocky, uphill paths. I was glad to learn of this unexpected turn. Stories like hers rarely progress this way, though the ending still remains highly unpredictable in a nation of immense poverty and limited resources.
But now, thanks to the kindness of strangers, Maya has hope.