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Vaught’s note: Normally I stick to UK-related stories, but today I wanted to share a column I hope might be an inspiration to you like this 9-year-old boy is to me.
By LARRY VAUGHT
He was just one of many runners that struggled to finish the difficult 3.1-mile course in the Coach Plummer’s 5K at Admiral Stadium Aug. 3 over a hilly cross country course. Nine-year-old Jeff LeDonne came across the finish line in 43 minutes, 32 seconds. Nothing extraordinary unless you knew the adversity this youngster overcame to get to this point.
I had no idea until I talked to his mother, Lisa LeDonne, after the race. She had gone past me midway of the run and I was congratulating her on her run when her other son came by and she asked him where Jeff was on the course. That’s when she told me his story.
Jeff LeDonne was adopted in 2010. Lisa and her husband, Tim, went to Ecuador for a lengthy process that finally brought him to Danville.
And what a story it is.
They were able to confirm at the hospital that even though he was born in the rain and didn’t have “much documentation” about where he was born, that his birth date was March 23, 2004. While that may not seem like a big discovery, let a blog entry Lisa LeDonne posted at the time explain why it was extraordinary information to obtain:
“Jefferson was born in a Shuar tribe, deep in the Amazon. At approximately 5 months of age, while alone in his hut, he rolled off his bed into his mother’s cooking fire. He laid prone in the fire for some time and was severely burned from his feet up to mid-thigh on both legs. He lost all his toes and what was left of his feet were melted to the front of his legs. Because their culture dictates that babies with defects of any kind will not be allowed to live as part of the tribe, his mother would have been sent out with him and only allowed to return alone,” LeDonne write.
“Back then the mothers often threw their babies into the river, but Jefferson’s mother walked for days to take him to a clinic outside of the rain forest for treatment. She tried to abandon him there, but the staff wouldn’t allow it. She then decided to take him to a tea tree plantation in the area and leave him under a tree. The owners of the plantation found him and rushed him to the hospital. He stayed there for several weeks then was taken to Case de Fe, the orphanage where we would ultimately work and fall in love with him.”
The LeDonnes felt blessed immediately to have Jeff as part of their family.
“Our first meeting with Jefferson was amazing. He ran up to us with a smile bigger than life and hugged and kissed us all. It really felt like he’d been our son for a long time, but we just hadn’t seen him in awhile,” Tim LeDonne posted on their blog during the adoption process. It sounds so nice when he calls me ‘dad’ and Lisa ‘mom.’”
Lisa LeDonne said they always believed God had a “special plan” for their son and they never doubted he could eventually do things other children here do — just like he did in Coach Plummer’s 5K.
But there’s another remarkable twist to this heart-warming story.
Lisa LeDonne said the “nightmare of paperwork I would find myself buried in trying to get Jeff’s birthday corrected with the Department of Homeland Security and then getting his Social Security card” after they returned to Danville was overwhelming.
“It would prove to be equally as daunting as the adoption process at times, but we survived it,” she said.
However, less than three months after they returned home, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had two major surgeries in a six-week period in 2011.
“It was a very difficult year (in 2011), battling cancer and having breast reconstruction surgical procedures,” she said. “Poor Jefferson got a little lost in all that — not really beginning to understand what was going on and still new to making the adjustments to living with us here in the U.S.”
However, that adjustment has gone well and it was exhilarating to watch him finish that run knowing his story. I couldn’t help clapping when he finished the race — and will do the same again Aug. 24 when the LeDonne family participates in the Pigskin Classic 5K.
I want to make sure my special guests — Ryan Lemond of Kentucky Sports Radio, Mark Buerger of WLAP Sunday Morning Sports Talk and former Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard and their wives — all get to meet and know Jeff and his family.
“Jefferson is an amazing kid. His spirit and vitality give me so much personal strength,” Lisa LeDonne said. “I had a really hard time feeling sorry for myself … any time I even started to think bout having a pity party, I’d think about him and where he’d already been in his short life and that would put everything in perspective.
“He’s one of the strongest human beings I’ve ever met. I consider myself very blessed to call myself his mother.”