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Elissa's story

By Matthieu Ricard on June 13, 2012

In 1996, Elissa Montanti visited Bosnia. At the time, she lived in Staten Island and suffered from a debilitating anxiety disorder. ‟I was shown a letter from a boy who had lost two arms and a leg when a land mine blew up,” she recalls. ‟The letter this boy had written said, ‘Somebody help me, please get me new arms and a leg.'” Moved and inspired, she recruited airlines and hospitals, and within 24 hours had gotten enough aid to bring him to New York. ‟I was single at the time and had two dogs, so he stayed with me for four months, and while I was giving him back his limbs my anxiety started to disappear. I had been asking God to help me with my anxiety and little did I know that help would come in the form of a letter from halfway around the world.”

Today, the nonprofit foundation Elissa has created, Global Medical Relief Fund, offers medical care and prosthetic limbs to refugee children from war-torn places like Bosnia, El Salvador, Liberia, Niger, Iraq and Somalia. ‟The courage of these kids is absolutely amazing,” says Montanti, who seems innocently unaware of her own courage in visiting war-torn places and rescuing these children. ‟A little boy I just brought here lost his sight and arm. I reached out and twenty different specialists saw him. His sight was too far gone for a cornea transplant, but he got a new arm and when the newspapers asked, ‘How do you feel now?' he answered with a big smile on his face, ‘Now I can search my way.' This is courage.” The first boy she helped, Kenen, now lives with Elissa and her husband and is, she says, ‟an example for all the children I bring here. They look at him and say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,' because he's a triple amputee.” Many of the children return each year as they grow, to have their prosthetic limbs adjusted.

‟People ask me if anyone can do this. Yes, anyone can do this who has love in his or her heart. That's all it takes.”

From Stephen G. Post, (2011). The Hidden Gifts of Helping