Since a chance encounter seven years ago, Martinez residents Ismar and Juanita Rubio have been on a mission to help amputees in Honduras.
They serve as ambassadors to the Central American nation for the Warren G. Barr Foundation Amputee Assistance Fund, a group that provides prosthetic limbs for impoverished amputees in Central and North America and the Caribbean.
During an aid mission to Honduras in 2000, a 6-year-old named Douglas, who was born without hands and feet, touched Mr. Rubio's heart.
A native Honduran, Mr. Rubio took the impoverished youngster to Florida to be fitted with prosthetic legs.
That led to a chance meeting with Tony Barr, the head of the Barr Foundation, of Boca Raton, Fla.
"We met by coincidence," Mr. Rubio said. "We met through a friend of mine while we were working on Douglas' prosthesis. Tony knew him (the friend) also and he said 'I will help him to get his arms.'"
Barr arranged for Douglas to be fitted with arms and to receive free care through a Shriners Hospital until he turns 18, Mr. Rubio said.
Barr and his late father, former U.S. Sen. Warren G. Barr, also were amputees. The senator lost his legs in a car bombing in 1970, and Barr lost his foot in a train accident, according to the foundation's Web site.
Their shared experience led them to create the foundation.
In October, Tony Barr turned to the Rubios again, they said, to arrange a return trip to Honduras to help a group of adult amputees. Scores of Honduran civilians were left maimed because of mines buried along the border with Nicaragua in the 1980s during fighting between anti-Sandinista Contras and the Nicaraguan government, Mr. Rubio said.
That lead to a desperate need for prosthetic limbs in a poor nation.
Barr died before the Rubios' latest trip in June, but the foundation provided limbs to 12 people, the couple said.
Mrs. Rubio said she cried at the sight of a dozen people waving their arms in the air, grateful for their new prosthetic limbs and a chance at a new life.
"Helping these people is, I think, the most wonderful thing that can happen to us," Mrs. Rubio said.
Mr. Rubio, a retired Army investigator, Mr. Rubio said he wanted to give to those less fortunate.
"I came to the United States very young," he said. "Then I went to the Army and to school. I've been blessed, and I said, 'It's time to give back what I've got.'"
The foundation relies on donations of money, medical supplies, such as crutches and wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs from a network of physicians, suppliers and the public, Mrs. Rubio said.
The Rubios are planning a second trip to Honduras this year to assist 14 adults. So far this year, 3,000 Hondurans have applied to receive new limbs.
For more information about the Barr Foundation, visit the Web site www.oandp.com/resources/organizations/barr/index2.htm.
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