The Galveston Daily News from Galveston, Texas on July 4, 1999 · Page 8
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July 4, 1999

The Galveston Daily News from Galveston, Texas · Page 8

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Galveston, Texas
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Sunday, July 4, 1999
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Page 8
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GALVESTON COUNTY, TEXAS SUNDAY, JULY 4, 1999 I)\n.vNi-:\\s A9 Milton Continued from Page Al of operations to reconstruct a face that had burned away, and he needed a place to wait for the surgeries ahead. But as Milton learned to wink with a new eyelid and surgeons planned to sculpt a new nose, he was rebuilt in a different way — he found a family. Becky Gates, who first met Milton last year on a mission trip, is the godmother. The Eev. Ray Pinard, who oversees his daily activities, the father. The young patients staying at the Ronald McDonald House, his siblings. And his neighbors at Edgewater became grandparents, all 110 of them. Milton's life in El Salvador, if it taught him to expect much of anything, didn't teach him to expect this. Pinard, the pastoral care director at Edgewater, tells a hard story of street living and farm work gleaned from Milton and an older friend. When he was 8, Milton began working on coffee plantations around his hometown of Turin, El Salvador. A tractor explosion four years later left him with mostly scar tissue — permanently pocked and wrinkled skin — above the waist. With an unknown mother and a frequently absent father, his employers and friends got him the medical help they could. The physicians in the capital city of San Salvador, though, were unable to do much for a boy whose face fire had taken. Milton doesn't remember much after the explosion. "It was like I was asleep," he said in Spanish, with Pinard translating. He bounced from house to street to house until he was 14, when Gates first saw him, on the street, last August. The scar tissue on his neck was so thick then that he couldn't move his head, and his eyes were so cloudy he could barely make out shapes. Gates called Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston, and the new extended family began. "They said, Tfou get him here, and we'll take care of him, 1 " Pinard said. "It's their willingness that got this done." Gates convinced American Airlines to donate plane tickets to Houston for Milton and a friend. A passport was issued, and the Lions Club donated a cornea for the first operation. Stefan Trocme, an opthal- mologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, performed for free the surgery that restored sight to Milton's left eye soon after he arrived last December. The right, damaged beyond repair, will be replaced by what Milton calls a "disposable eye" in the next few weeks. "He's telling me everything A Every weekday morning, Milton quickly grooms himself and heads to Shriners Burns Institute. M ilton moved in as a guest of the Moody House, free of charge. To make Milton's stay more comfortable, his new grandparents donated the kind of amenities any young bachelor would want —an easy chair, a two- seat sofa, a television and a microwave. he sees now," Pinard said, with a laugh. Each of Milton's operations, five so far, need at least 60 days recovery time. There's always the possibility his face won't accept the skin transplanted.from his thigh or that an infection will break out unannounced. So Milton needed a long-term place to live. He stopped first at the Ronald McDonald House, where families can stay while their relatives receive hospital treatment. There he met his new older brother and weekend house manager, Derrick Flyr. Flyr said Milton didn't talk much until a party to celebrate his 15th birthday in January showed that his new family loved him. "I think that's where he woke up," Flyr said. "I don't think he'd ever been given anything before." Milton spent three weeks meeting younger people like himself, Spanish speakers who needed treatment at Shriners orUTMB. When he had stayed as long as house rules allowed, he left A Milton waits for a ride from his guardian, Ray Pinard. He'd love a new bike and the independence ft would bring. A Milton reads a story about Pecos Bill during an afternoon lesson at Shriners Burns Institute. his newfound younger siblings with the promise to return. With at least a year of operations and recovery ahead, Milton's godmother, Gates, had asked Strawbridge United Methodist Church in Kingwood to find a more permanent residence. The church, connected with Pinard through the Methodist program "Volunteers in Mission," gave Edgewater a call. Milton had a home. "Our board said, 'By all means,'" Pinard said. Pinard became his legal guardian, and Milton moved in as a guest of the Moody House, free of charge. To make Milton's stay more comfortable, his new grandparents donated the kind of amenities any young bachelor would want — an easy chair, a two- seat sofa, a television and a microwave. He added at least one bit of atmosphere himself: a picture of two parrots near his living room window. Even though he insists he's not homesick, the artist says the birds remind of him of El Salvador. Seven months after he first came to Galveston, Milton has a pretty well-defined daily routine. In the morning, corn flakes and orange juice. Rnard says that his adopted son thought for a long time that the cereal was all Americans ate. "And spaghetti," Milton says. On the day that Milton could not make himself unseen in the Moody House lobby, he waited for Pinard to drive him to UTMB for one of his frequent check-ups. The healing from the last operation — the insertion of a balloon underneath Milton's Everyone who sees Milton this morning, and every morning, knows the 15-year- old from El Salvador. It's not so much the patch over his eye or the brace around his neck that makes him conspicuous, say friends, but his aura. scalp to stretch the remaining ^ healthy skin over burned areas w — was hindered when Milton bumped his head a few days 9 before. But Milton spends much of £ his time these days looking for more than the physical healing £ that first brought him here. He recently began classes to A learn math and reading, two skills he didn't pick up in El A Salvador because he never ™ went to school. And he's volun- ^ teering whenever he can at ^ Edgewater and the Ronald Me- _ Donald House. ™ "They just follow him around," Flyr said of Milton's 9 younger siblings at the McDonald house. "He's like the Pied Piper." "They follow me around because I treat them right," Milton said. Milton does whatever a normal house volunteer would — mostly changing sheets and taking out the trash, Flyr said. He's also begun collecting international money from his younger brothers and sisters. So far, bills from'Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras fill his wallet. His latest project is a push for a bicycle. He usually can find someone to drive him home after the long hours he keeps at the Ronald McDonald House, Pinard said, but he's hoping for a little more freedom. "A young guy, he needs some wheels," Flyr said. The operations almost have taken a back seat in Milton's new life. His routine, and his family, are the focus. "I feel like I am at home," Milton said. A Mlrton learns numbers In English during a game of cards at his afternoon lesson. When he was 8, Milton began working on coffee plantations around his hometown of Turin, El Salvador. A tractor explosion four years later left him with mostly scar tissue — permanently pocked and wrinkled skin — above the waist. With an unknown mother and a frequently absent father, his employers and Mends got him the medical help they could. The physicians in the capital city of San Salvador, though, were unable to do much for a boy whose face fire had taken. Becky Gates called Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston, and the new extended family began. i Every weeknight, Milton volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House. Photos by Nicole Fruge

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