Genaro and I talked for quite a while. He had lost his leg because of diabetes. He had come to Tom about two years ago. He said Tom literally changed his life. He talked about how he had tried to get help from the government, but he kept being sent here and there and was given paperwork to fill out, but in the end, nothing was ever done.
Then he learned about Tom and Tom is all action and no words. He spoke with real feeling how Tom was his friend and the friend of so many in Panama.
Ho told me about being the office one day and there were some there from the Dariên. The word has gotten around that there is this Chiricano Gringo who can put you back on your feet” or give you a “hand” so to speak.
This is just one of the typical stories I have heard while visiting people who have benefited from Tom’s generosity and hard work.
I say hard work because Tom doesn’t just provide things for people in need. His fitting of prosthesis for people is a tiring and stressful task. Tom has had to learn how to adapt many of the donated prothesis for a specific person.
Tom has to evaluate each individual to see if they are a candidate. They need a certain amount of a remaining stump to attach the prosthesis. He has done some amazing things. Each one has changed a person’s life. It is no wonder he has become known as the Chiriquí Angel.
Many of the prothesis that have been donated to Tom cost thousands of dollars in the U.S., and the recipients could never afford them in Panama. When they ask him who much they will have to pay, your says they will have to give him five. When they ask five what, he extends his hand.
A handshake and a smile are considered payment in full. Still some refuse to take something they didn’t pay for. So he has received bags of fruit and vegetables or other items the individual has. One person insisted he take $50. Tom accepts whatever makes them feel good, but only requires a smile and a hand shake.
I have talked to several who have received these gifts from Tom. I asked several how they lost their arm or leg. Some of the stories really took me back and all affected me.
There was this one young lady ( in her 20s I think) who had lost her leg from a snake bite.she told me with tears in her eyes how much her new leg meant to her because she could now dance with her husband again.
I talked to one fellow and he said he lost his arm from a machete swung by another man. I joking said, you were lucky he didn’t swing for you neck. He pulled down his shirt neck to show me a scar near his neck.
Many have lost legs because of diabetes.
I was in Tom’s area one day and there was a mother, her son and her daughter from Costa Rica. The son was missing a leg. I asked the mother what had happened. She said he has climbed up on a glass topped table to reach some thing and the glass broke. How sad.
As I said earlier, Tom has to measure the stump to insure there is enough to attach the prosthesis to. Tom has Rubi to help and is always there. Still it creates some situations where Tom has to tell ladies that they are going to have let him see the upper leg to do his work.
On one of these occasions a grandmother was there with her two granddaughters. As Tom was measuring the leg, he noticed the two granddaughters talking and giggling. He asked them what they were laughing at.
They said that their grandmother had been in the hospital recently and she would not let a male doctor look under the sheets. The grandmother explained, “Señor Tom doesn’t know anyone I know and won’t talk about this”.
Tom should write a book some time.
I tried to figure out how to embed photos into this write up, but there were too many stories and too many photos. Instead I am going to include an album of photos at the end of this post. Photos say more than words anyway.
When I have talked to Tom about someone that has a need, he has always come through. Hospitals, fire departments, support groups as well as individuals from all over Panama have benefited from the containers he has brought down (container 13 and 14 just arrived).
Not only has he provided to Panamanian’s, U.S. Citizens and people who have traveled to David from other Latin American countries.
As you look at the photos below, I want you to think how lucky you are. It is the time of year to give thanks for what we have and if we have enough to maybe give to others less fortunate. It doesn’t have to be much. A kind word to the checkout girl. A tip to the bag boys (remember that the stores don’t pay them, they depend on tips), check with your church (many have various support organizations – Lilliam and I give $50 each month to support students).
I am a lucky person to know Tom. Chiriquí is lucky he calls Chiriquí his second home.