July 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ecuador: The Republican and Herald: Norma Mercedes Perugachi Tuqueres Stuart was scarcely more than a baby when Peace Corps nurse Betty Stuart and several Pottsville residents gave her a chance at a new life after she lost both hands and part of an arm in a bizarre accident

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ecuador: Peace Corps Ecuador : The Peace Corps in Ecuador: July 3, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ecuador: The Republican and Herald: Norma Mercedes Perugachi Tuqueres Stuart was scarcely more than a baby when Peace Corps nurse Betty Stuart and several Pottsville residents gave her a chance at a new life after she lost both hands and part of an arm in a bizarre accident

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-22-73.balt.east.verizon.net - 141.157.22.73) on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 4:28 pm: Edit Post

Norma Mercedes Perugachi Tuqueres Stuart was scarcely more than a baby when Peace Corps nurse Betty Stuart and several Pottsville residents gave her a chance at a new life after she lost both hands and part of an arm in a bizarre accident

Norma Mercedes Perugachi Tuqueres Stuart was scarcely more than a baby when Peace Corps nurse Betty Stuart and several Pottsville residents gave her a chance at a new life after she lost both hands and part of an arm in a bizarre accident

Norma Mercedes Perugachi Tuqueres Stuart was scarcely more than a baby when Peace Corps nurse Betty Stuart and several Pottsville residents gave her a chance at a new life after she lost both hands and part of an arm in a bizarre accident

Years after ordeal, 'Mechi' came a long way

BY IONE GEIER 07/03/2004

Norma Mercedes Perugachi Tuqueres Stuart was scarcely more than a baby when a Peace Corps nurse and several Pottsville residents gave her a chance at a new life after she lost both hands and part of an arm in a bizarre accident.

That was in 1976. Now she has a baby of her own, Briana, born June 1 in South Bend, Ind.

The new mother, who prefers to be called "Mechi" (the nickname rhymes with "peachy"), has lived in the Midwestern city for the past 11 years.

The chain of events that makes it possible for her to care for an infant even though she doesn't have hands began when she was a hospital patient in her native Ecuador.

Her parents, highland Indians, had left her in their one-room hut with her 5-year-old sister while they worked in nearby fields. Somehow, Mechi, then 18 months old, made her way outside to where the family pig was tethered and got into the animal's food. The pig gnawed the little girl's left arm to a point just above the wrist and her right arm to within an inch of the elbow.

When her parents returned home, they found her lying in a pool of blood. The couple, isolated from the outside world by the physical barriers of the Andean Mountains and the equally formidable ob- stacles of illiteracy and poverty, were convinced there was no hope for the child. They wrapped her in rags and went to look for white burial clothes.

It wasn't until three days later that a relative persuaded them to seek medical assistance for their daughter.

The village doctor they consulted couldn't help the critically ill child. He urged the parents to take Mechi, by that time barely clinging to life, to a hospital in Ecuador's capital, Quito.

The 36-mile trip, first on foot, then by bus, took a harrowing two days. At the hospital, surgeons amputated shredded bone and tendon fragments and performed skin grafts, then turned her over to Betty Stuart, a Peace Corps nurse in the rehabilitation department.

An extraordinary rapport developed between the little girl and Mrs. Stuart. In a relatively short time, Mechi, initially subdued and passive, was smiling and active, picking up objects with her arms and feeding herself with a spoon held in place by a suede arm band.

Although the little girl was making remarkable progress, Mrs. Stuart recognized that Mechi needed medical assistance not available in Ecuador. The nurse had herself appointed the child's guardian in the hope of someday bringing her to the United States for advanced treatment and therapy. Since she earned only $200 a month in the Peace Corps, her hope seemed like an impossible dream.

Fate helped her dream become a reality when Joseph Roberts Pisklak came home to Coaldale on leave from his job in Ecuador. The electrical engineer, who knew Mrs. Stuart and her charge, mentioned Mechi's plight to his sister, Marge Roxandich, Pottsville, and her neighbor, Leah Shugars.

Mrs. Shugars contacted her father, the late Fred Hatter, president of the Crippled Children's Society of Schuylkill County. The society's funds are reserved for county residents, but he arranged to have Mechi admitted as a research patient to the Alfred I. duPont Institute in Wilmington, Del., a pediatric hospital.

The problem of travel costs was solved when Pisklak paid for airline tickets to the United States.

During one of Mechi's many stays at the duPont Institute, doctors fitted her right arm with a plastic and wire prosthesis.

On another occasion, surgeons used a surgical method called the Krukenberg to separate her left forearm into two stumps that operate as pincers. The procedure gives amputees the ability to grasp and pick up even very small objects.

In the meantime, Mrs. Stuart, a 50-year-old divorcee with two adult children and eight grandchildren of her own, adopted Mechi after first taking her back to Ecuador to obtain the parents' permission.

In between hospitalizations, the little girl and the Peace Corps nurse lived at the home of Mrs. Roxandich and her husband, George, on Third Avenue.

Their last trip to Pottsville was in 1983. By that time, Mechi had stopped wearing the plastic and wire prosthesis because the hook that served as a hand kept catching on her clothes.

A REPUBLICAN account of that visit noted that no one knew what the future would bring for the handless child, then 9, and her adoptive mother.

What the intervening years have brought Mechi are extensive vocational training; a high school diploma; a car that, in spite of her handicap, she drives without special adaptations; an apartment she shares with Brian Meijers, a store clerk who is the father of her child; and work experiences that include telemarketing, pressing clothes in a dry cleaning shop and greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart.

She expects to return to her current job on a factory assembly line in September.

There have been rocky patches along the path to her present life.

Although Mrs. Stuart spent several years as a nursing supervisor on an Indian reservation so that her bronze-skinned daughter wouldn't have to cope with color discrimination, the reservation couldn't protect Mechi from all of life's prejudices.

According to Mrs. Stuart, certain children would look at Mechi's shortened right arm and Krukenberg stumps, shudder and say things like "Isn't that gross!" Adults were often just as cruel.

An injury Mechi suffered in a sixth-grade soccer game resulted in years of pain and finally in 1999 two surgeries for hip dysplasia.

Like many teenagers, Mechi underwent a rebellious period. After graduating from high school in 1993, she took off with two friends for a trip around the United States in their camper.

Mrs. Stuart had concerns about their trip, and her reservations turned out to be justified. There were times the travelers had to panhandle for money to buy food. In California, Mechi's companions abandoned her. Then, while hitchhiking to Washington state for a rock concert, she lost all her possessions.

A night spent sleeping in an alley convinced her life on the road was not what it had been cracked up to be. She called Mrs. Stuart and asked to come home.

After several months of indecision about her future, and a certain amount of prodding from Mrs. Stuart, Mechi contacted Good Will Industries. The organization's job training and placement program helped her find employment as a mail clerk. She has worked in various capacities since then, stopping only for Briana's birth.

Mrs. Stuart, a home health care nurse when she retired last year, continues to give support to those in need by volunteering at senior citizen centers. Her main concern at the moment is to assist Mechi in caring for the baby.

Pottsville and Schuylkill County still play a part in Mechi's life.

In 1995, when she turned 21, she received money donated to her by area Scouts, civic groups and REPUBLICAN readers of articles about her. Administered by the county Crippled Children's Society, the fund totaled $14,000.

"Some of the money that's left is being invested in an account for the baby," she said in a telephone interview shortly before she gave birth.

Mechi's story proves the power of generous hearts to turn tragedy into triumph.

Because of Mrs. Stuart and many other caring people, a child who might well have been condemned to living in an institution has become a vibrant young woman, one who is capable of dealing with, and overcoming, the challenge of life without hands.


©The REPUBLICAN & Herald 2004




Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: The Republican and Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ecuador

PCOL12143
40

.


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: