UPDATE 12/22/12–Long Island Miracle for Shot Afghan Kid–Elissa and the Global Relief Medical Fund brings Marizeh to America from Afghanistan to get her face restored and to receive a permanent prosthetic eye.
UPDATE After Hurricane Sandy By Elissa Montanti November 8,2012:
Hurricane Sandy affected so many along the East Coast and one of the hardest hit areas has been Staten Island where I was born and raised and where the Global Medical Relief Fund is based. I am incredibly grateful that despite losing power, myself, the children and GMRF volunteers are all safe.
During the rough night of the storm 15-year-old Ahmed, who lost his sight and arm to a bomb explosion outside his home in Iraq, and 15-year-old Ngawang, a Tibetan boy who was accidentally electrocuted and lost both arms, prayed together in their languages.
Even with the strong wind that sounded like a freight train and the GMRF’s loss of power, their prayers must have worked because we got through it. It’s remarkable that in the midst of such a disaster, these kids from different corners of the world connected and became best friends. Sandy has brought us all closer together.
Soon Ahmed and Ngawang will be joined by two children from Indonesia, who have injuries from the 2004 Tsunami, as well as another child, who will be the first Syrian child brought to the U.S. for help. All of us at GMRF would like to thank you for your support, especially at this time. Like so many of those around us, we are also in need of supplies and donations.
We are asking for clothes and shoes for the children as well as international phone cards so that they will be able to update their families abroad. We are also hoping to receive enough donations for a generator so the children who are recovering here will be able to stay warm in the event of future outages.
You can visit our website, Global Medical Relief Fund, for more information and how to donate.
Following article by Pamela Burke/September 30, 2012
We saw a fascinating piece on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last year about Elissa Montanti, an amazing woman who brings children with missing limbs to the U.S. from all over the world to be rehabilitated. Her endless determination to help young people survive and prosper is remarkable. Once you hear her story, you don’t forget it.
“You are giving back a child their dignity, their youth and new friends from a different corner of the world.” Elissa Montanti
This interview will give you a taste of her drive and determination to make a difference…
EYE: You have an amazing story, Elissa. My heart goes out to you and all the children you have been involved with. You have accomplished what few could by launching this Global Medical Relief Fund which you ran out of a former walk-in closet. What propelled you to start this fund?
EYE: You had a job as a medical assistant and gave it up to start your organization. Were you scared that you might not succeed? That was quite a leap you took.
ELISSA: Yes, but my desire and determination to do so was stronger than my fear of not succeeding.
EYE: Have you accomplished more than you ever thought you would?
ELISSA: Actually it was my goal to do as much as I possibly could. Yes, I have accomplished a lot but there is much more to do.
EYE: I read where your slogan is “Never Say Never.” How do you keep such a positive attitude?
ELISSA: Because that’s what keeps you focused. If you allow negativity to dominate your desire then you will build barriers with a big blinking sign saying, ‘NO ENTRANCE.’ By saying “Never say Never,” the road before you is always wide open with various options and opportunities.
EYE: You’ve spent over 14 years spending most of your own money to bring children to this country who need new limbs and new lives. How do you keep going financially?
ELISSA: On a wing a prayer and lots of peanut butter sandwiches!
“It’s about the healing and the coming together of all ethnic backgrounds and living under one roof.”
EYE: You say you run on a prayer, begging and borrowing money. How do you persuade people to get involved? Do they ever turn you down?
ELISSA: I would show them a child’s picture and letter of plea. How could they say no? However, I did receive a ‘no’ once from a hospital whose policy was not to treat foreign children. It’s their loss for not making a difference in that child’s life.
EYE: I heard you say you get hate mail for bringing children in from some countries. Does this bother you?
ELISSA: It used to. But now I say a prayer for those who send me those types of notes.
EYE: The story of the plight of Waad, the young boy on “60 Minutes,” was amazing. His continuing recovery is a miracle to behold and the result of your efforts and all of the people involved. Do you stay emotionally involved with these children forever? Did you think he would ever be able to play soccer as he did on the piece?
ELISSA: Yes, I knew he would. It never gets old to me when you see them walking, running, reaching for a glass or writing. I stay in touch with almost all my kids, especially the young children who will return to the U.S. for follow-up treatments until they are twenty-one.
EYE: You say that you are more than an organization…that the children you are involved with become ambassadors to the world. How important is that to you?
“I know I am making a difference and that’s what keeps me going.”
ELISSA: VERY. It’s about the healing and the coming together of all ethnic backgrounds and living under one roof. They all look out for one another, speaking different languages but communicating through love. It’s about the kids going back as little ambassadors and showing the more positive face of America. And so much more.
You are giving back a child their dignity, their youth and new friends from a different corner of the world.
EYE: I read where you say you cry all the time. How could you not? Experiencing what you do must be heart-wrenching. How do you keep going?
ELISSA: I do cry a lot, and I can’t prevent it. I’ve tried but the lump in my throat hurts too much to hold back my tears. Knowing that I am making a difference keeps me going.
EYE: You brought three children back from Haiti after the earthquake. There was and is such a need there. How do you decide whom to help?
ELISSA: It isn’t easy but you try to prioritize as much as possible. You ask yourself who has the worst injuries and who would benefit the most. Of course, there is the approval of doctors and hospital that they can in fact help.
EYE: Your job seems overwhelming. There are so many children that need help. Do you wish you could do more?
ELISSA: Absolutely! I want to do more, and I will strive to do as much as I can in my lifetime.
EYE: What is your dream for your organization? Last December you moved in to your “Dare to Dream” home where you can house more children. That is quite an accomplishment!
ELISSA: It is a milestone, and I am filled with pride. My dream is to help as many children that I possibly can.
EYE: How can people help? You talk about small actions being very important.
ELISSA: In my book’s introduction, there is a story about “The Starfish Thrower.” It goes something like this…
A man is walking along the beach and notices a woman going back and forth, again and again, between the water and the sand.
As he gets closer, he stops and laughs. This crazy woman is actually picking up the starfish stranded on the beach, one by one, and tossing them back into the ocean.
“Lady, look there are thousands of miles of beach and God only knows how many of those little creatures,” he says, shaking his head. “One person can’t possibly make much of a difference in saving them.”
The woman stoops down to pick up a glistening purplish starfish, dusts it off, and gently casts it back into the waves, then turns to the man and smiles. “It sure made a difference for that one!” The starfish story has become a metaphor for my charity.
I am that crazy woman and the injured children I bring to the United States for a new limb and a new smile are like those starfish. One can help by visiting our website.
People can also buy my memoir, I’ll Stand By You, which tells the story of how and why I found my charity, my struggle through depression and finding that by putting these children back together, I was healing my own shattered self.
Portions of book sales will benefit the Global Medical Relief Fund.
EYE: What’s next for you?
ELISSA: To grow, but never too much to not know whom I am helping. The children are not numbers rather part of my global family who I truly love.
EYE: Thank you so much, Elissa. We are so looking forward to having you on our radio show when we can learn more about you and your most selfless undertaking. You must tell us how you began your organization in your closet and how it grew to this global operation.