Fidele’s Story of Restoration

On some nights, sleep can be elusive. The events of the day replay and rewind in our minds. While most thoughts disappear with each breath, some thoughts slowly intensify like a storm. Instead of growing drowsy and drifting off to sleep, sometimes our whirling thoughts awaken us to an even greater degree. The magnitude of some experiences are recognized only after we’ve had time to reflect upon them. That’s just what happened to Jay Martin, Founder of Martin Bionics, the night he was introduced to Fidele.

On Thursday, September 15, 2016 the Martin Bionics team had the privilege of being part of a tragic yet redeeming beautiful story that originated in 2009 in Ivory Coast, a country in West Africa.

Fifteen year-old Fidele Shep is chosen in many different senses of the word. An orphan, Fidele has been dealt a lifetime of challenges in his short life. Fidele’s father died when he was only 7 and his mother had no rights to him. So he went to live with his aunt in a small rural village. The other children in the household were put in school while Fidele was sent to work at the cocoa plantation. Every day he was clearing weeds, brush and harvesting with a machete. This was Fidele’s childhood. Then in 2011, Fidele found himself four miles deep in the Ivory Coast forest, harvesting bananas. He was struck with severe abdominal pains and he barely made his way out of the forest, ultimately collapsing on the edge of the main road. A group of school children saw him and helped him get back to his aunt’s house. He went 10 days without food and received no medical treatment for 8 months. The infection had finally reached the bone, and he was on the verge of death. He was sent back to his native village, as is the cultural custom when someone was near death.

Fidele’s village heard that the Americans were coming. It was an eight mile journey but they brought Fidele to a mobile medical clinic set up by Mike Cousineau, founder of 1040i, a missionary organization to the Ivory Coast. The doctor informed 11 year old Fidele that his leg had to be amputated above the knee in order to save his life. Fidele understood and agreed.

After the surgery, Fidele went back to live with his uncle. But his uncle rejected him because he was no longer useful to him. He was sent to live with his sister, where she and her husband welcomed him. But Fidele was struggling to adapt to his new circumstances. He decided to end his life. He found some poison and was making his way back into the forest so he could die. However his sister’s husband stopped him. Not long after this, in their village Gbalta, a missionary told Fidele about Jesus. Fidele learned of the love of God and how He is the Father of all orphans. The gospel touched his heart and Fidele accepted Christ.

Fidele desired to learn to read, so that he could read the Bible. Despite his age he began auditing primary school (the equivalent of elementary school) since he had previously not been given an opportunity for schooling. However, he had no way of getting to the school which was three and a half miles from his village. With the help of Mike Cousineau, Fidele received a bike so that he could pedal to school. Fidele shared, “By the grace of God, I got a bike which allows me to travel long distances even with one leg.”

Fidele was brought to the United States by Mike Cousineau for various medical treatments including being fit with a prosthetic leg. While in the United States, young Fidele had an opportunity to share his story at two dozen speaking engagements, primarily private and public schools, as well as universities. University of Oklahoma President David Boren even invited Fidele to attend OU. The level of favor that has been given this young rural kid from Ivory Coast is unique, and he humbly realizes its significance.

It was during this visit through Oklahoma City that the Martin Bionics team had an opportunity to meet Fidele. Fidele had been fit with the Martin Bionics’ Socket-less Socket™ technology through EastPoint Prosthetics in North Carolina in the previous week.

Earlier in the summer, the Martin Bionics team learned about this young man who would be coming to the United States to be fit with their technology. They couldn’t wait to meet Fidele, who has been described as an emerging leader and worship leader in his village.

Jay Martin began to ask Fidele a few questions about his experience with his prosthesis. Martin was eager to see how Fidele’s new Socket-less Socket™ Swing Brim™ was fitting. Fidele shared how much he loved his new prosthetic leg. He came across as a bit shy and reserved at first, yet very polite and articulate. Fidele’s infection and subsequent amputation had caused him to experience so much anguish, rejection and isolation. Fidele shared, “Before I got this prosthesis, I did not feel like I was a whole person, and people made fun of me. But now that I have this, I feel complete and I can do the things that everyone else does.”

When asked about his plans when he returns home, he said he is excited about going back to school and dreams of becoming an orthopedic doctor to help others in the same way that he was helped. His new leg will help him get to school and participate with everyone else. “I was in a state of joy and the thought that came upon me was that I have found the leg that I lost,” he said.

As Fidele continued, with eyes full of gratitude, “It is tremendous what you have done for people that you don’t even know. And it just shows the love of God and I believe that because of your gift to us, that whatever you ask of God, He will not refuse you. And so thank you very much again for helping me and my people.”

In those closing moments of our meeting, we caught a glimpse into the heart of this young emerging leader. As our short meeting progressed, he visibly became more comfortable, animated and passionate. His voice became louder. His eye contact intensified. The tone of his voice became more urgent. He spoke as if he was running out of time. He had both a sense of urgency and poise – as great leaders often do. He wanted to make sure his message was received before he left the meeting. He saved his best for last. In that moment we saw his passion and giftedness. It happened in a blink, but nonetheless it was evidence of his budding gift for capturing a room. Both Mike and Jay shared the same insight about Fidele… God’s hand is clearly upon this young man.

Fidel has a firm grip on his priorities. Once he felt deeply rejected, lonely and without hope. Now Fidele describes himself as complete and is determined to fulfill his purpose on this earth. His desire is to continue to grow in the Lord and to serve Him and to continue his schooling as far as possible. He has a profound sense of gratitude. He recognizes that he was introduced to Jesus as a result of losing his leg. He said, “I might not have become a Christian if I hadn’t experienced the loss of my leg. Since Jesus was willing to die on the cross for me, then I can accept what has happened to me.”

Despite the assistance of a translator, as Fidele spoke in French, which is the official language in Ivory Coast, Fidele left his mark on us.

In developing nations around the world, thirty million amputees are in need of prosthetic devices. Only about 5 percent of these populations have access to prosthetics. Traditional prosthetic sockets are expensive to produce, and they require skilled practitioners to fit. It takes a practitioner years of training to become proficient in the art of fitting conventional prosthetic sockets. Fidel’s new Socket-less Socket™ is inexpensive to produce, lightweight, and simple to fit comfortably. It will be so exciting to see this new technology begin to spread in Ivory Coast and around the world.

We will follow Fidele’s journey and listen intently for updates. He has awakened us to a powerful story that we believe will continue to unfold in the coming years. Our experience with Fidele won’t be forgotten. It won’t be a memory that slips away into the night. No… on some nights, sleep is especially elusive. And we are thankful for that.

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