I pretty much watch 60 minutes every Sunday—unless it’s an interview with Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen or some other “star” that isn’t worth my time. A couple of weeks ago I saw a story about a Staten Island woman, Elissa Montanti, founder of a non-profit organization called Global Medical Relief Fund. This woman is unbelievable. Without any relief training and very little money—she is her own fund raiser—she started a charity that works with children around the world who have lost a limb or their eyesight.
In almost all the cases, the children were caught in the crossfire of a war, many injured from a roadside bomb. Until Ms. Montanti came along, few, if any of these children received any treatment or rehabilitation. Montanti has changed all that. Since starting her charity, she has helped over 100 children worldwide receive desperately needed medical care by twisting arms and literally begging the medical community for help. Children missing a limb received a prosthetic replacement and for the first time since their injury felt whole again.
One such child, a nine-year-old boy from Iraq named Wa’ad, was playing with his friends when he kicked what he thought was an empty soda can. It turned out to be a bomb. Wa’ad lost part of one arm at the elbow and a leg at the knee. He also lost vision in his right eye and the explosion left him with disfiguring scars on his face. Through a network of doctors that Montanti recruited, Wa’ad was fitted with a prosthetic leg, a cosmetic eye, but most amazingly, through a series of painstaking procedures, a gifted plastic surgeon dramatically improved Wa’ad’s facial appearance. As a result of Montanti’s tireless efforts and networking with doctors and hospitals, all the medical treatments were performed at no charge. It costs Montanti about $50,000 a year to operate her charity, and every penny is donated.
I must admit that I could not hold back the tears as I watched Wa’ad’s transformation from a tattered and torn young boy to one that could now smile and live a fairly normal life.
After the program ended, I couldn’t help but wonder where selfless people like Elissa Montanti come from. What motivates people to help other people in need with virtually no compensation and rarely any recognition for their extraordinary efforts? I understand how movie stars and sports figures and billionaires are motivated to share a sliver of their wealth with the less fortunate. And I don’t mean to minimize their generosity, but in most cases their physical contribution comes down to them signing a check and then going on with their busy lives. They usually don’t get their fingernails dirty.
But people like Montanti who dedicate their entire lives to helping other people are part of a very small yet very elite group. Can you even begin to imagine what the world would be like if there were a lot more people like Elissa Montanti. We really have the power to change the world. But how many people are willing to give up their cushy lives for a life of thankless service? I contribute to several worthwhile charities, but that’s all I do. Maybe it’s time for me to take a long hard look in the mirror and find out if I like what I see.