On Thursday morning, just five days after the first earthquake, I met my neighbor Shane Basse, an ex U.S. army soldier. Shane, now a student of Buddhist philosophy at the Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery in Boudhanath, had just returned from a rescue mission to a remote village, sponsored by the Chokgyur Linga Foundation, to help the victims of the earthquake.
Shane was getting ready to find Khendrol (Angel in Tibetan), a seven year old girl that his team had rescued from Jatan. This village, like many others in Sindhupalchowk, was devastated by the earthquake. About 80 people died out of its 200 inhabitants. Shane didn't know which hospital the army had taken Angel to, and she was in critical condition. All that he cared about at that moment was to find out if she was still alive.
I noticed that this had been an emotionally intense experience for Shane. When he was telling me about the whole journey, the condition in which they found Angel and everything that happened afterwards, he had to pause a few times to hold his tears back.
Thanks to Shane, that same day I was able to join the next rescue team to another village called Yangri. I wrote about that experience in How Buddhist Monks Are Helping the Victims of the Earthquake in Nepal. After our return Gilad Yakir, who was in my team and also in Shane's team when they rescued Angel, said, "The mission to Yangri was physically demanding, but the mission with Shane was emotionally challenging."
|Gilad and Shane giving first aid to the villagers of Jatan|
Shane told me that he had originally joined the rescue team to Jatan because of the adventure. He heard that it could be a dangerous trip, a life threatening mission to a place that no helped had reached yet. That's all that he needed to hear to immediately sign up for the mission 72 hours after the first earthquake struck.
This excitement for a dangerous mission has probably something to do with his background. Shane served for six years in the U.S. Army including one year in Iraq and one year as a contractor in Afghanistan. He was a soldier, a mechanic and a CLS (Combat Life Saver) or Squat Medic.
But once they reached Jatan and found the village destroyed with its survivors helpless and in shock, and many seriously injured with infected wounds, he realized the real reason why he had joined this mission.
He said, "All of a sudden I felt grateful for all that training that I had more than ten years back. If it wasn't for that training I wouldn't have known what to do. All of a sudden because of the adrenaline of the moment every single detail, everything that I had learned came back to me." He then added, "More than compassion it was my dharma, it was my duty at that moment, that's what I needed to do."
Angel was their first and most critical patient. She had a serious wound in her left leg that had become infected. Her father had been waiting for a rescue helicopter to come, but three days had pass and no helicopter had come to their village.
For Shane it was clear that she needed to go to a hospital immediately and that her leg had to be amputated, although not necessarily at that moment. To help everybody prepare mentally for what might have come he announced that he will need to cut the leg off within the next hour.
He told me "I knew the signs of a person entering in shock. She was not showing those signs yet." He continued cleaning Angel's leg cutting off portions of her calve that were extremely infected. Once the wound was cleaned and covered they continued treating about 30 other seriously injured villagers.
The team slept for four or five hours and then continued treating more patients but once they noticed that Angel's heart rate dropped from 80 to 60 bpm they stopped everything and carried Angel in a hand-made stretcher on a difficult six hours trek back to the Nepali army base in Melamchi, from where she was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu. This is Shane's own description of what happened during the rescue mission:
"Our first patient was a little girl named Khendrol (Angel in Tibetan) with a broken femur that was protruding out, covered in maggots. It was seriously infected and I thought we would be forced to cut it right there. We thought she might had only an hour or hours to live.
I disinfected it, stuffed it, and wrapped it, and then one patient after the next, mostly broken bones and open, infected lacerations. We knew that we had to get these people off of the mountain as soon as possible, and the little girl was the priority. The parents didn’t want to take her off, they wanted to wait for the helicopter (they had been waiting for three days!!!).
At 8:30 AM, after stabilizing the village, we basically didn’t give them a choice. We built bamboo stretchers and told the father that the girl is going to the hospital “now,” and off we went.
Half way down we realized that the rest of the village had decided to take us seriously and by the time we had reached the Nepali army, many of our other seriously injured had showed up. Six hours later we made it to the medical evacuation point and all of our casualties were evacuated to Kathmandu, including the most critical – the little girl, Khendrol.
After returning to Boudhanath Shane decided to focus all his efforts in helping Angel, but first he needed to find her. He had to visit about seven hospitals until he found Angel.
"The family and I spent 14 hours trying to find the girl, hoping that she made it, and of course she did. They amputated her leg, but she is alive. This experience has changed my life."
Since then Shane has been working tirelessly to help Angel and his family in anyway he can. He visits her at the hospital every single day to see how she is doing. He's been in touch with the doctors of Handicap International who are helping her and who has promised a prosthetic leg for Angel, and he started a campaign to raise funds to build her a new house. In his own words
"My purpose in raising funds is to rebuild their lives, their homes, their small farming lifestyle, and to keep them in the mountains where they live as farmers rather than having them end up migrating here to Kathmandu and surviving as refugees! I don't want to see Angel sitting on the side of road with a bowl, begging, as is all too often the case in Kathmandu."
A couple of days ago Shane got her a present. He knows she loves phones so he got her a smartphone and fill it up with some Nepali's cartoons. He said to me, "This was the first time that she made eye contact with me. All the previous days she avoided looking at me, probably because she recognized me as the person that cause her so much physical pain, but now finally it seems that she understands that I'm here to help."
I decided to visit Angel on Monday while Shane was there. She is such a lovely girl. She looked at me only a couple of times, when I was not looking at her, but she has a little friend, the small brother of the patient from the next bed. With her friend she becomes a little playful child again. We all got really exited when we saw her smiling (for the first time in two weeks!) while sharing her smartphone music with her little friend.
|A magic moment captured by Shane in his camera. Her first smile in two weeks!|
The doctors from Handicap International came to see her while I was there. They tried to make her do her therapy but she refused to and instead hide herself behind the screen of her new smartphone. The doctors where really nice with her and they have a good plan to motivate her do the therapy. They'll try to move another little girl next to her who has a similar problem but who is willing to do the therapy. Of course they will make sure that her little friend is still there.
Before I got to the hospital she was also visited by a psychologist who is checking her mental and emotional state. Angel did not just lost her leg and experienced a traumatic event as an earthquake; she also lost her grandmother and her ten years old sister who died right next to her. Her uncle, a very young guy, stays with her at the hospital but her mother has been living in Kuwait for two years and her father needs to stay in the village.
I really admire all the dedication that Shane has made to help Angel, is really inspiring. Even though she has not yet acknowledged his help he's been serving her tirelessly without expecting anything in return. He is now looking for a temporary apartment in Kathmandu where Angel can move with her family to continue her physical therapy with the help of the doctors of Handicap International.
|A video of Angel's house after the earthquake. It's quite shocking|
Although I was not in Shane's team and I had nothing to do with this mission by sharing this story I feel now part of it, as if I had been there with them all the time. It's an experience that has touched my heart. You too can be part of this story by contributing to help Angel get a new home and by sharing this story with your friends. Thanks for your help. Don't forget to visit GoFundMe.com/TibetanAngel to know more about Angel's story. If you make a donation you'll receive email updates by Shane, via GoFundMe.Com, to let you know about Angel's status.