Dr. Turner Assists Belarus Orphan – for the 2nd time

Dr. William Turner Dr. William Turner

The following story, written by Cheryll Boorgaard and titled "A leg up in Longview," appeared in the Daily News on April 19, 2009.

Tatsiana Valodzina’s stature is as petite as a gymnast. Her faith is as massive as a bodybuilder. For the second time in her life, the young Belarussian orphan’s painful walking has been eased by a Longview surgeon. She calls both times "a miracle."

"God keeps putting people in my path to help me," said Valodzina, who will turn 35 next Saturday.

In late 1996, Valodzina, then 22, visited Longview, where orthopedic surgeon Bill Turner shortened her left leg by more than an inch to match the length of her right leg, which she had broken when she was 12. Inept Soviet medicine and operations had left it deformed, causing her to walk with an awkward gait.

Her leg felt good until about five or six years ago, she said.

"At first it was just an uncomfortable feeling in the winter or the fall," Valodzina said Friday at Pacific Surgical Institute in Longview. "We wear heavy jackets, heavy boots. It felt like a heaviness, but I thought it was just because I was wearing heavy boots. Every year, it got more and more and then I had obvious pain. It was difficult to explain because it was inside."

Belarussian doctors told her they were ready to do surgery, but when they saw the large rod inside her bone, they weren’t quite as confident, Valodzina said.

"They said they’d try, but they couldn’t guarantee that it would be successful," she said. "They told me they could always give me handicap status and I said, ‘No thank you.’ "

A chance meeting between Valodzina and Steve Kinley of Lake Oswego, Ore., in the summer of 2006 at a Black Sea resort in Ukraine set her second miracle in motion.

"My grandmother was from Belarus and so we chatted about that," said Kinley, who accompanied Valodzina to Longview Friday. "She was in a lot of pain. She told me about the surgery, but said she didn’t remember where exactly it took place. When I got back to the states, I Googled Dr. Turner and found Pacific Surgery."

Valodzina’s plight touched Kinley. "God put her on my heart. I told her that I would get her here."

Valodzina had her second operation April 8 in Longview. Turner again performed her operation, this time to remove the rod that ran the entire length of her left thigh – the one he shortened in 1996.

"We arranged for Pacific Surgery to use the facility," said Turner of Longview Orthopedic. "She had the same anesthesiologist as last time, Herb Fleege." Turner said although hardware is usually tolerated by the body, if it’s in a moving part, there can be inflammation and it may need to be removed, such as in Valodzina’s case.

"I’m on my feet a lot," she said, "whether it’s walking or standing on the bus."

When Valodzina returns to Minsk, the Belarussian capital, in September, she’ll seek out her former job as a translator for missionaries and teachers. In addition to English, she also speaks Hebrew.

It’s a struggle to make ends meet. Because of her orphan status, even though she is an adult she has to pay $800 annually for a registration. Authorities would waive the fee if she married, but "I don’t have time for a personal life," she said.

So, without the proper documentation, she can’t have a job or a place to live.

"Without registration, you don’t exist," she said. When she’s working she faithfully sets aside $80 each month for the yearly expense.

Kinley and his friends hope to send her home with enough money to get started again. "Getting back to the country, her registration has expired, she doesn’t have a job, she left what money she had with her roommate to cover the rent," Kinley said.

Despite needing a lot of money just for everyday living, Valodzina has not forgotten her orphaned past. She eats only every other day so that she can provide treats and toys to orphans. It also gives her a chance to share her faith, though very subtly because of government rules.

"I teach them to have self-esteem. I remember the feeling of nobody wanting you," she said. "I hug them, I kiss them on the cheek. There’s always a question of ‘Why are you so kind to us?’ I say I love God and he became my friend and he sent people to me to help me."

Turner said he saw a noticeable change in Valodzina since he saw her 12 years ago, largely due to her faith and forbearance to live the best life she can under her circumstances.

"When she came over the first time, she was an orphan, a castaway, living day to day," Turner recalled. "She had very little trust of other humans; she was kind of closed. It was fun to see her, much more together and in command of her life. She doesn’t come across now with a feeling of despair."

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