Monday, March 24, 2008

Windham woman has a big heart for children


By Terry Date
Staff writer

WINDHAM — In 1991, Elaine Yourtee and her husband traveled to Romania to adopt a child. It was in the wake of the fall of communism in the country, and the couple were appalled and sickened by the conditions they witnessed.

Out of this was born Nobody's Children, a humanitarian group based in Windham. Over the past 17 years, the agency has helped thousands of children. Most of those helped, whether stimulation-deprived orphans in state-run institutions, or children in need of surgery to restore use of arms, legs or other body parts, are from Romania or war-torn Bosnia.

Right now, the Yourtees' house guest is 20-year-old Ioan Tomsa, a soft-spoken man from a rural Romanian farming town who for the last 13 years lived with the right side of his face caved in, unable to open his mouth more than the width of a thumb.

Nobody's Children recently helped arrange the remarkable reconstructive surgery that lets him open his mouth to smile. He is awaiting additional surgery to have a glass eye implanted.

"Finally, finally, he will have his face," said Elaine Yourtee, the executive director for Nobody's Children.

Tomsa speaks little English, but when asked to describe Yourtee, his voice sails forth in Romanian that translates to: She has a big heart for children.

Yourtee doesn't doubt that there is a connection between her commitment to providing children medical and other care and her life experiences, especially her childhood.

Her namesake was an aunt from her hometown who had diabetes and lost her sight to the disease. Her father died young from heart disease, while Yourtee was studying nursing in Berlin, N.H.

But one of the most formative of her childhood experiences was when Yourtee was 13.

At that age, she traveled from home in Summerside, a small community of 10,000 in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, to the United States for surgery to remove a diseased kidney. The operation was a major one in 1957, and she awoke with a large scar from an enormous incision.

"I was about cut in half," Yourtee said.

But she felt better almost immediately, being rid of a nonfunctioning kidney.

Her recognition of the importance of medical care led her to study nursing. Her studies led her to the larger world.

Yourtee, an energetic woman, said she is trying to do her part in relieving suffering.

"This world is filled with need," she said.

There is something everyone can do, no matter how small, to help fill that need, she said.

But ultimately, it takes action, she said.

"You know how in the spring if you want a vegetable garden you have to plant seeds?" she said, bringing her hands down flat on her dining table. "If you don't plant the seeds, you won't have any vegetables."

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