By Michael Turnbell
It was a chance encounter, but one that was forever impressed upon the heart of Dr. Lynne Nasrallah.
Dr. Lynne, as she is affectionately known at Food For The Poor, met Filiana on a mission trip to Haiti in 2002. She was being treated for leprosy at Cardinal Leger Hospital.
“I remember that Filiana was sitting up in her hospital bed when we visited her cubicle,” said Dr. Lynne, who serves on the charity’s Board of Directors. “She was 30 years old, vibrant and smiling. She made her living by crocheting starfish.”
Leprosy had robbed Filiana of her fingers, but she still managed to contribute and weave wonders with skeins of yarn in the nubs of her fingerless hands.
Filiana sold each starfish for $1. Dr. Lynne and her daughter, Desirae, who accompanied her on the trip, bought all Filiana had – all 20.
Dr. Lynne gave the starfish away as gifts. She gave one to each of her daughters, Desirae and Nicole, and kept one for herself.
“It was a memorable and happy visit,” Dr. Lynne said. “Filiana paid no attention to her leprosy and neither did we.”
In her own way, Dr. Lynne said, “Filiana taught me that whenever I met a person with leprosy, I must go out of my way to touch that person, to make them feel a human connection rather than isolation and loneliness.”
The starfish that Filiana crocheted often has been used as a symbol of hope during trying times
Dr. Lynne traveled to Haiti with the late Fr. Richard B. Martin, who organized the Operation Starfish® program.
Fr. Martin wondered what would happen if each family in his Virginia parish made a Lenten sacrifice of 50 cents a day? The church could help the poor and experience the true meaning of Lent.
Fr. Martin told his parishioners the story of the young boy who walked the beach and noticed an old man tossing back one starfish at a time into the ocean to save them. The young boy asked the man why he bothered, since there were so many. The boy responded that it made a difference to the one that he touched.
The theme of the story is a question we often ask ourselves: “What difference can we possibly make?”
“The starfish story is so meaningful,” Dr. Lynne said. “It made a difference to that one. One home makes a difference.”
Thanks to Dr. Lynne’s touch and the generosity of FFTP’s donors, Filiana realized the dream of having her own safe, secure home. She smiled through happy tears as she danced with Dr. Lynne on the front porch
Over the next decade, Filiana bravely endured surgeries to remove her toes, her foot and eventually her leg. Her struggles were mighty, but Dr. Lynne said Filiana never lost her faith in God, her love of family or her love for Dr. Lynne.
This past Palm Sunday, Filiana was rushed to the hospital. Dr. Lynne prayed for her healing, but it was not to come on earth. Filiana died that day and returned home to her Savior.
She left her three children her only earthly possession, her treasured Food For The Poor home.
Just as Filiana’s home continues to bless her family, her story reminds us that one act can continue to bless people for generations to come.
Watch a video of Dr. Lynne Nasrallah sharing Filiana’s story.