It’s all just dumb luck, really.
You go about daily life, doing boring, daily-life type things. Then, in a way you could never predict, one of those mundane acts has life-altering consequences.
If Claudia Tolay hadn’t checked Facebook that night in May, who knows what would have become of the little girl who lay gravely injured, bandaged from head to toe, 4,000 miles away?
Rosalia Apaza Pillco, 4, lived with her parents and six siblings in a home with no running water and a dirt floor in El Alto, a very poor place outside La Paz, Bolivia. On the morning of May 20, a neighbor offered to take Rosalia to her home for a bath. Her mother, who had given birth to Rosalia’s baby brother just three days earlier, was grateful.
Thirty minutes later, Rosalia was barely conscious. She had been attacked by the neighbor’s Rottweilers, her body covered in gruesome wounds, most of her scalp torn away. It took hours to find a hospital that could treat her injuries. A pediatric hospital in La Paz finally stabilized her that night.
Within a day of the attack, Bolivian-born Tolay was heading to bed in her home south of Boston when she checked her cellphone one last time and came across a Facebook post, and a graphic picture of Rosalia’s ravaged body.
“I am a mom,” Tolay said. She had to do something. She dispatched a well-connected friend in La Paz to find the child. The director of the hospital told Tolay he didn’t know if Rosalia would survive another day.
Survive she did. Tolay recruited her husband, Joe Currier, an emergency room physician at Milford Regional Medical Center, to help. He began consulting with Rosalia’s doctors via Skype every day. “I could see that if she survived, she wouldn’t be able to get the treatment she needed there,” Currier said. “We had to bring her here.”
Currier pressed Rosalia’s case with Boston Children’s Hospital. It took a few more weeks to clear the administrative and diplomatic hurdles to get her to Boston. But connections and, again, luck, helped them leap every one of them. They even managed to find a private plane to bring them to Rosalia and Rosalia to Boston, courtesy of a colleague of Currier’s father, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
By the time the jet flew into Bolivia, Rosalia’s story had become a national cause. At the airport, Tolay and Currier were amazed to be greeted by a band, an army of reporters, and scores of children with letters of support. Police stopped traffic for a girl who might not have counted for much a few weeks earlier.
Rosalia, accompanied by her father, Tolay, Currier, and two nurses from the Milford hospital, arrived at Children’s on June 20. Every day she shows more spunk, demanding ice cream, refusing to let Tolay leave her. On Thursday, a team of doctors spent more than 11 hours transplanting tissue to restore her scalp. She came through fine, Currier said. But she has a long way to go.
It is not the summer Tolay and her family were planning a couple of months ago. They’re at Children’s every day. Rosalia’s father spends every other night at their house. Colleagues and relatives have swooped in to care for the couple’s four kids, ages 13, 9, 20 months, and 9 months.
“If you think about these things in a rational way, you would never do it,” Tolay said. “This is the best summer ever for us and our kids. Rosalia is changing our lives.”
Tolay doesn’t have to wonder what might have happened if she hadn’t come across that Facebook post. She saw it for herself at the hospital in La Paz, where doctors do well with limited resources, but are often overwhelmed.
“Parents were crying, ‘Please, bring my daughter too,’” she recalled. Tolay and Currier are working now to provide better equipment to the Bolivian hospital, but it won’t come soon enough for those desperate parents. They need what brought hope and a long plane ride to a poor girl: luck.