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Not taking no for an answer

Shandy Welch is determined to help a girl from Ethiopia come here for foot surgery
by: VERN UYETAKE, 
Shandy Welch of Lake Oswego has made all kinds of things happen in her effort to bring a young Ethiopian woman to America. Now just one barrier stands in the way of her reaching that goal.

When Shandy Welch heard that Yodit Derese had been turned down for a visa to America, she was quite disappointed.

On Oct. 29 the Lake Oswego woman received a phone call from Hilary Shreves, her friend and partner on the project to bring the young Ethiopian woman to this country in order to have a critical operation performed on her foot.

Her news was that the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia had decided to deny Yodit's request for a visa because they had determined she would be a flight risk. In other words, the officials thought she was liable to stay in this country and become an illegal alien.

'Yodit has no family, no home, no money and no assets,' Welch said.

But Yodit may yet have all she needs to make the journey that can change her life. She has Shandy Welch on her side.

When Welch told her co-workers at St. Vincent's Hospital about the bad news, one of them said, 'Do they have any idea who they said 'no' to?'

Probably not. But they will find out. Because if it comes to moving heaven and earth to get what she wants, Welch doesn't mind doing it.

'Yodit not having all of those things is all the more reason we need to help her,' said Welch, a nurse practicioner who founded the orthopedic fracture team program at St. Vincent's. 'I really think this is the right thing to do for this woman. This is her only chance. How could I not push it to the ultimate end? This is someone's life I'm talking about.

'Besides, the whole community has been so incredible that I owe it to them, too.'

It is not just her words that make Welch seem so determined. It is her voice, too, sort of a mixture of steel and warmth. After all, she has already done so much to bring Yodit to the U.S.

This saga began a few years ago when Hilary Shreves and her husband Eric, of Portland, had resigned themselves to the fact she could not have a baby; so they decided to seek to adopt Ethiopian children.

At that point, children rapidly began to fill up their lives. First came Eli and Sophia, then they met Naomi (now 13 years old) in 2005. Just when Naomi's adoption was nearly wrapped up, Hilary found out she was pregnant.

'It was a miracle baby!' she said. 'We were overwhelmed all at once. Four kids is a lot of kids in one year.'

But the Shreves actually wanted to adopt one more youngster - Naomi's sister Yodit. She was alone, living in a mud hut with rats all around, and Naomi was the only other member of her family that was still alive.

Yodit was also in an extremely vulnerable position because she had developed an overcorrected clubfoot. The Shreves had been to Ethiopia and knew firsthand that could lead her to a life of tragedy in which she would literally have to drag herself through the dust.

'This foot really limited her ability to walk to a job,' Hilary said. 'Eric and I saw what it was like there. Paralyzed people dragging themselves on the ground. No wheelchairs or crutches.'

The adoption effort failed because a bone scan determined that Yodit was 18 or 19 and thus too old to be adopted. But there remained the chance she could be brought to America for the operation. The Shreves made every effort to pursue every type of visa. However …

'All of our options fell through,' said Hilary, a nurse practicioner at OHSU. 'Our last-ditch effort was going to our pediatrician (Margaret McClaskey of Sunset Pediatrics). She contacted the administration of St. Vincent's Hospital in Portland.

'Within days I got a phone call from Shandy. She took charge of the situation.'

Welch said, 'They asked me if I would be willing to spearhead this thing, and I said, 'Yeah, absolutely.''

Welch proved to be the absolutely right person for the job. Handed a long and daunting list of requirements for the task, Welch proceeded to meet them all, one after another - meeting every cost and receiving cooperation from the medical community (including six Ethiopian surgeons), politicians, bureaucrats, airlines and, most impressive of all, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Optimism was at high tide, and a date of Dec. 10 was set for Yodit's arrival.

Then came the U.S. Embassy decision.

'I can understand the government's decision,' Welch said. 'Yodit is just a number to them. They don't know her story. They don't know the integrity of the people involved. I don't think they understand quite it.'

So, Welch will make them understand. In the 24 hours after hearing about the embassy's denial, she contacted five senators and multiple organizations - 'anyone who might have the connection I need.'

'I was not able to do this, so now I want to find someone who can,' Welch said. 'I just need to get the word out. Someone knows how to navigate this. I can't stress enough that this is Yodit's only option.'

Welch's optimism has only been slightly dented, but she still has Dec. 10 marked as the day that Yodit will arrive.

'I can't wait for the moment she gets off the plane!' Welch said.

Persons who may have information on how to assist Shandy Welch may call her at 503-216-4628.