My name is Shane Matura, from Corozal, Belize. When I was 5 yrs old, I stepped on a nail but didn’t realize it led to spinal bifida. I walked crookedly from age 5 to 14, but it didn’t stop me from playing, not knowing I was hurting myself. The chronic infection and fever were setting in, and I took several trips to the hospital. I met Mr. Eugene Verdu at a clinic in Orange Walk, Belize, when I was 14. As soon as the doctor saw me, he said my situation was an emergency, and I needed to go to the US, which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I got the medical attention I needed, which my town couldn’t give to me.

Dr. Jack Sheridan from Shriners Hospital was working at the clinic in Belize. He looked at me and said my condition was very severe. With “Uncle” Gene Verdu’s help, we started working on my visa right away. In February of 2000, I went to the US.

I was 14 years old, and it was my first trip to the United States. It was a pretty amazing experience. We arrived just after the St. Louis Rams, American football team, won the Super Bowl. I was feeling pretty weak, and my health was getting worse.

Uncle Gene picked me up at the airport and drove me to Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton’s home. Sharon and Jim were my first host family. They were so nice, treated me like part of their family. I was there a week before I went for my first checkup. When the doctors took a look at my leg, they said it was pretty bad. They admitted me to the Shriners. Doctors tried very hard to medicate me through tubes, but that didn’t work, so they gave it orally.

Meanwhile, the infection was eating everything inside me. The medication didn’t work.

They had to amputate my leg.

The program paid for my mother to fly to the US to be with me. I didn’t get emotional until I saw her.

She stayed at the hospital for two weeks and then with the host family.

My mother and grandmother became good friends with Uncle Gene for many years.

Shriners Hospital was fantastic. I got to eat all I wanted. They gave me prizes after every meal. What kid wouldn’t enjoy that! There was a big recreation center to hang out. There was even a schoolteacher at the hospital who taught me how to type.

I was in the hospital for 5 ½ months.

After the surgery, it didn’t take long to get used to the prosthetic. I was able to walk almost immediately. Not too long afterward, I could even play basketball. I am 36 now. I’ve stayed in touch with Sharon and Jim Hamilton, my great host parents. 

The Belize Children’s Project has been very important and effective, helping people like me and many others.

As I now look back, twenty years later, I think so fondly of my Uncle Gene.

It’s difficult for disabled people to get a job in Belize.

Today I work as a customer service officer at Corozal Free Zone of Belize, a huge retail center between Belize and Mexico. The zone is filled with wholesale and retail companies designed to promote foreign investment in Belize. It’s a great job, and I could have never earned it without an education.

Uncle Gene paid for most of my education and assisted many other Belizean children in achieving their dreams.  Uncle Gene has been behind us all the way. He has always encouraged me to keep on trying. He has done so much to help our country.  His “children” are experiencing that there is much more to life following all the incredible medical attention we received. He encourages and supports us to live a greater life. I became the person I am today because of Uncle Gene. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shane Matura