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Katie Drake, The Salt Lake Tribune (November 20, 2008)
Tibetan rugs sold in Utah are giving children in Nepal a new lease on life
The Nepal Cleft & Burn Center, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit organization, has plans to build a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, providing much-needed medical care.
Jim Webber, the owner of Foothill Oriental Rugs, runs a Tibetan rug factory in Kathmandu. Over the years, he has become part of that community, and saw the hospital as a way to give back.
Webber partnered with Shankar Rai, a Nepalese reconstructive surgeon, to find a project that would have a lasting impact. They decided on a cleft and burn center because operations are relatively simple, but can dramatically change a patient's life.
Cleft lips and palates are a large problem in Nepal, occurring in one-in-500 children, Rai said. Clefts are even more prevalent in Utah, which has the nation's highest incidence, one-in-450, said Marcia Feldkamp of the Utah Birth Defect Network, but most children receive corrective surgery soon after birth.
Burns are an even bigger problem in Nepal, as most people use open fires for cooking. Accidents happen easily, as clothes catch fire or children are hurt while playing. Rai said some burns can leave a person completely disabled and unable to work, while even more are disfiguring, diminishing marriage and job prospects.
Webber and Rai began planning the project six years ago, and in the past two years have raise 5,000, enough to dig and pour the foundation of the hospital. They recently raised over ,000 at a fundraiser at Webber's store.
The event featured an auction of items such as a week at a Paris apartment, a season ski pass at Park City Mountain Resort and original works of art.
Despite the amount raised, Webber hopes donations continue coming, so the foundation can also pay for operating costs and supplies and equipment for the hospital.
Webber also has plans for the hospital to provide a place for patients and their families to stay while undergoing surgery and recovery, as many will travel from surrounding villages.
"What we need is almost endless," Webber said.
The surgeries, already underway at other facilities, are free to patients through Interplast, a California-based nonprofit that focuses on reconstructive surgery.
Rai and his team treated 1,200 clefts and 500 burn patients last year. Rai said the current facilities are not hygienic, crowded and lack adequate equipment. The new center will allow the team to give better treatment to more patients.
The facility will also be a teaching hospital for the entire region. Interplast will train medical staff from other countries to perform these surgeries, so they can someday take skills back to their communities and provide care.
Rai and Webber hope to have the hospital completed by the end of 2009. Webber visits his factory at least once a year, and plans to remain very involved in the hospital during those visits and through frequent contact.
"You can't be everything to everyone, so you have to choose your battle," Webber said. "And this is just a really good battle to choose."