Openingnotes Section Title
Beth English Photo

For those of you who are on Facebook, have you noticed the words under “update status”? Mine says, “Beth, tell a story…”

I love it. It's so much better than, “What's on your mind?” or “How are you feeling?”

Stories are powerful things. I do what I do because I fell in love with stories at an early age. And I still can't get enough. My nightstand is full of books that I intend to read. My bookshelf overflows. And that's not to mention all the titles jotted down here and there of books to look up the next time I'm in the library.

And then there's Facebook. And Twitter. And the newspaper. So many bits of information whirling around. It can become overwhelming.

But sometimes there are those stories that wiggle into your heart and live there. Let me tell you one of my favorites — the story of Dr. Cindy Howard '74 and her girls, Christine and Loice.

We first wrote about them in 2004. Cindy is a pediatrician, who has always felt the pull to help children globally. For years, she volunteered in places where food, water, electricity and medical care were in short supply.

Eventually, she became assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland medical school and continued traveling to Uganda at least once a year to volunteer for a month at a time. During one of these visits she met Christine and Loice.

They were conjoined twins, connected from upper chest to navel. Cindy got them to Baltimore where the 4-month-olds were successfully separated in a 12-hour operation. That should have been the end of the story. They returned home and should have lived happily ever after. But they didn't.

Several months later, a dream prompted Cindy to call a fellow doctor in Uganda to check on the twins. The pediatrician discovered they were malnourished and helped take them and their mother to Kampala, the Ugandan capital, where they could get nutritional rehabilitation. By the time Cindy arrived for her regular month-long visit six weeks later, she found them wasted and listless. Loice was suffering from heart failure and Christine had pneumonia. Their mother, unable to care for them, entrusted them to Cindy.

And so they eventually returned to the United States. This time as a family.

That was the last I'd heard of them. Cindy, age 50 and single, was learning to be a mother for the first time. To toddler twins.

It's a wonderful story of caring and redemption and love and a whole host of other things. But I think I connected to it for an additional reason — her girls and my son are the same age. I could imagine how exhausting her days were. I could imagine the temper tantrums and the cuddles. The questions and the endless pleas to “Watch, Mommy!”

When we envisioned pulling together a story on alumni and others who exemplify the call to Do something bigger altogether (aka, dsba), Cindy immediately came to mind.

I've thought about them through the years. What did the girls look like now? How were they doing in school? Were they healthy? How was Cindy faring?

So I emailed Cindy and then had a wonderful phone chat.

The girls are still little, but all legs and very fast, Cindy said. Loice was on crutches from a hip surgery but hoping to get back to walking unassisted the next week. She'd been a trooper about the whole ordeal.

At 10 years old, the girls had just finished fourth grade and were looking forward to going to a neighborhood theatre camp for a few hours a day for two weeks.

They share an attic bedroom and have the usual sibling spats. But at Christmas, Christine wrote to Loice: “You're my heart.”

This summer will be their first trip back to Africa so they can get an idea of what life is like there. Cindy has missed regular travel and is looking forward to this trip and reconnecting with those who helped care for her girls when they were just infants.

While it took some time to adapt to being their mother and giving up her volunteer work overseas, she has a rich life. With her job as associate professor and director of Pediatric Global Health Education and director of the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital, she has found a way to equip others to care for those in other countries while she cares for her two girls at home.

“I wouldn't trade being their mom for anything,” she said.

That may not be the end of the story, but it feels like a happily ever after to me.

Beth English '07 MALS, Editor
beth_english@uncg.edu