Sometimes when you are asked to do a favor, you may not realize the magnitude of your actions. For one man, Mr. Gene Verdu, I am quite sure he has no idea how many thousands of lives he has influenced. Gene is the founder of the Belize Children’s Project. Hundreds of Belize children have come to the States for orthopedic surgery at Shriner’s Hospital. Gene has transported many of them. As he places a child into the arms of another family, he forever changes their lives.
This story begins in 1961. Gene was a young teacher who was asked to be a Papal volunteer. Papal volunteers were young men and women who were asked to go to third world countries as missionaries. Gene went to Belize. He was going to help Fr. Leo Weber with schools throughout Belize. The bishop asked him if he would go to the Cayo District to start a high school. Being the good missionary Gene was, he said yes. He lived with the Bejos family who he still maintains contact with today, more than 50 years later. But that is another story. During his stay in Belize, there was a young child named Ian Lizaragga who was the nephew in the family. He had some orthopedic issues. The family was very concerned for the boy. He could not walk. They asked Gene to help. Gene came back to the St. Louis area after serving his two years in Belize.
One night when Gene was at his sister’s house playing cards with the family, he shared Ian’s story. He told them of the small 1 ½ year old that sat in a bucket because he couldn’t walk. His family being the service minded people they are, started planning. Their neighbor, Bob Lee, was a Shriner. The family knew that Shriner’s Hospital offered free medical care. The family went over and got him. They told Bob the story of Ian and about Gene’s stay in Belize. Bob put the family in touch with Charles Chenowith known as Chenney. Chenney was the Governor of the Rotary and the chairman of the Board at Shriner’s Hospital in St. Louis. Gene persuaded Chenney to ask Shriner’s Hospital to provide Ian free medical care. Gene’s sisters agreed to host Ian. Within a few months, Ian was brought to Shriner’s and had surgery. Ian was the first of hundreds of children who would be transported by Mr. Gene Verdu. Gene continues to have an impact on many of our lives today.