In Corwyn Sondrol’s Bible, he keeps a snapshot of his son, Carter. In the picture, Carter lies on his side in a hospital bed. He’s just 4 or 5 years old, and his small body is consumed with things meant to heal him. A metal halo encircles his head, keeping him from moving his neck and damaging his already fragile spine. His legs are swallowed up by bulky casts. Thick glasses sit crookedly on his face. And in Carter’s hands, he holds a small video game. Because despite all the medical equipment surrounding him, he is, underneath it all, a little boy whose deepest desire is to live normally.
Carter was born with Kniest dysplasia, a bone disorder that affects 1 in 1 million people. The condition is characterized by dwarfism, skeletal abnormalities, and vision and hearing loss. When Carter was born, doctors were unsure if he would live — warning his parents that if he survived, he would likely be deaf and blind.
“I just remember feeling so angry,” says Corwyn, a pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Cañon City, Colo. “Angry at God, and angry at the lack of information. There was no information out there, nothing on the Internet. I finally just had to decide: Am I going to be in denial about this, or am I going to do something? It was only when I came to that place of brokenness that I could find the energy and the passion to act.”
Carter has had countless surgeries (his mother, Julia, says they have lost count), and they have traveled from coast to coast seeking medical care. But despite the obstacles Carter and his family have faced, his mother describes her son as a gift.
“God has a bigger plan and a purpose for Carter,” she says. “Children like Carter are brilliant leaders. He has faced more challenges in 16 years than I have faced in my entire life. He has this natural perseverance, this built-in drive to overcome obstacles. I’m amazed by him.”
As advocates for Carter, Corwyn and Julia began noticing that not every disabled child is seen as a gift. When traveling to developing countries, they found the opposite to be true.
“I vividly remember meeting one mother in Zambia,” Corwyn says. “It was like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. She was just slumped over and held a baby in her arms. She was so ashamed. But when I pulled back that baby’s blanket, the only thing ‘wrong’ with him was that he was missing a thumb. That’s all! She told me that as soon as the father saw the child’s deformity, he left. She’s never seen him again.”
While traveling, Corwyn has met many parents who have never heard that God has a plan for their disabled children. He calls these children the “hidden handicapped” — shunned by their families and communities, viewed as nothing more than a curse.
It wasn’t until they attended a Christian leadership summit that Corwyn and Julia realized the need to channel their passion for the hidden handicapped. At the conference, a speaker instructed the attendees to write on a slip of paper the answer to this question:
What is your passion? For both, children with disabilities came immediately to mind — specifically those with no support or resources.
“I wrote on that paper, Find them,” Corwyn recalls. And immediately, Corwyn and Julia began to look for avenues to funnel their passion.
When Julia took a Compassion trip to Africa with a group of pastors’ wives and saw Compassion’s work with children, including those with disabilities, she knew she had found the right path. Corwyn and Julia began sponsoring a child with a disorder similar to Carter’s, and soon their passion spread throughout the Vineyard congregation.
“We have an incredibly giving church family,” Corwyn says. “It is an economically depressed area, but if you give them a cause to champion, the outcome is amazing.” Today, the Vineyard congregation sponsors more than 100 disabled children. “We actually ran out,” says Corwyn with a laugh. “We’re waiting on more because we’re not finished yet!”
Carter is now a junior in high school. He is learning to drive and is a talented video editor. And he has taken his parents’ cause and made it his own. He recently created “Carter’s Idea,” a video detailing his journey and his belief that all disabled children deserve to be cared for and loved. “Carter’s Idea” was presented at a Compassion event at the Vineyard church and has since been viewed nearly 8,000 times — quite a feat for a teen who says he hates being the center of attention. But Carter is just getting started.
“Jesus said if we help people like these kids, it’s like we’re helping Him,” says Carter.
“I know what it’s like to feel different, to feel separated from everyone else.” That deep-seated empathy has made Carter hopeful that one day he can travel with his parents to another country and meet those “hidden handicapped” who have few resources or little support.
“I would just tell them to do everything you can to show people you can help yourself,” Carter says. And after a short pause he continues, “I would tell them that no matter what, God has a plan for you."
In his video, Carter Sondrol mentions the lack of access to assistive devices in developing countries. Imagine childhood without the ability to run, play or walk. Sometimes leg braces or a wheelchair would help a child get to school, which is crucial when considering the link between poverty and disabilities.
According to the World Health Organization, children with disabilities are less likely to attend school than children without disabilities. And adults with disabilities are far more likely to be unemployed that adults without disabilities.
Sadly, 85 to 95 percent of people worldwide who need wheelchairs don’t have them. The seriousness of that problem is summed up in a 2011 World Health Organization report, which explains how assistive devices such as wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids and other technologies increase a person’s mobility and ability to communicate. WHO notes, “With the aid of these technologies, people with a loss in functioning are able to enhance their abilities, and are hence better able to live independently and participate in their societies.”
When beneficiaries of Compassion’s core programs or their family members need assistive devices, costs of the equipment can be covered through our Complementary Interventions program. The program’s Medical Assistance Fund addresses critical needs by providing such devices as:
- corrective lenses
- hearing aids
- prosthetic limbs
To donate to Compassion’s Medical Assistance Fund, visit www.compassion.com/medical or call 1-800-336-7676.