PHIL AND DENNIS
We met Dennis at the orphanage in Russia during one of our visits. This very shy and reserved young man has been through a lot. Born a healthy child to an alcoholic mother, he wandered the streets and was burned in an accidental fire at the age of nine. He remembers waking up in the hospital with one of his legs burned to the bones and both arms amputated at the shoulders. His mother lost her custody over him, and as soon as he recovered from surgeries, he was sent to the orphanage. He learned to use his feet as his hands. However, the leg that had been severely burned was still causing problems. His knee was degrading from wear and tear and he desperately needed a complicated surgery to save it from amputation. The surgery is critical, because without arms or hands, losing even one leg would render Dennis immobile. Big Dreams Children's Foundation contacted Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, one of the top pediatric orthopedic hospitals in the world, and they committed to performing the operation to save Dennis's leg.
Phil was born with a severe form of arthrogryposis, a disease that severely limited his movement, and caused him to be rejected by his parents. We also met him during one of our visits to the orphanage. In contrast to Dennis, Phil is a very bubbly and curious kid. He wanted to get out and about, if he only had the ability. Instead, he was trapped in a manual wheelchair that he could not operate himself. Often, he would ask someone to give him a push, but most of the time, we would see him sitting in a hallway, all by himself. We were determined to improve the quality of his lifestyle, and to bring him to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for evaluation along with Dennis.
In 2016, Big Dreams fully sponsored this important trip for Phil, Dennis, and two chaperones from the orphanage. Dennis' five-hour surgery was a success, and his leg was saved. He was also seen by a biomechanical engineer, who built a custom tool based on Dennis's own design to assist him in dressing himself independently. Upon his return to the orphanage, Dennis graduated and reunited with his grandmother. Phil was evaluated by specialists at the hospital. Their examinations allowed us to order and purchase a custom-made power wheelchair with a head array and many custom add-ons that make it possible for Phil to operate the wheelchair all by himself. He no longer has to wait for others to push him—and his new chair can also ascend curbs, so he can join the kids when they go for walks outside the orphanage. Both Phil and Dennis also received free dental work while at Scottish Rite, and had few chipped teeth and several cavities repaired.
One of the most inspiring parts of Phil and Dennis's journey was a visit from Jessica Cox, who was born with no arms and is the world's first licensed armless pilot and motivational speaker. Jessica took time out of her busy schedule to have lunch with Phil and Dennis, and shared her story with them. As a completely independent adult, Jessica earned a Taekwondo Black belt, graduated college, received Guiness World Record for being the first person certified to fly an airplane with only their feet, got married and travels the world providing a positive example for many people. Here at Big Dreams Children's Foundation, we are proud of Phil and Dennis and know they, too, are leading lives of purpose far beyond their disabilities.