More than 40 years after she was taken in by a host family, one of our first-ever burn patients was recently reunited with the people who sheltered and cared for her as a young child visiting a foreign place to receive life-changing surgery.
When ReSurge (then Interplast) was first established in the late 1960s, children from developing countries were occasionally brought to the United States to receive reconstructive surgery. While in the U.S., they would stay with volunteer host families who would care for them during their recovery.
A little girl named Leticia from Tijuana, Mexico was one of those patients. When she was just three years old, Leticia had suffered severe burns on her arm and chest after her dress caught fire while helping cook the family meal. Scarring from these burn injuries partially fused her arm to her chest, but five years later, in 1969, she was connected with us and was brought to California for surgery.
Leticia came to the U.S. multiple times to receive care, and each time, Pat Sherman and her family brought Leticia in to stay at their home in San Jose while she recovered. Neither Leticia nor Pat knew then how their lives would be changed by this experience.
Leticia became like another member of the Sherman family, forming close bonds with the other children and her two host parents. Even to this day she calls them her "second family."
The surgeries were successful, and after her care was complete, Leticia returned to Mexico a new person. Not only had her body changed, but her confidence and self-image had been strengthened through the love and support she had received during her time in California.
After she returned, however, Leticia lost touch with the Sherman family as the years passed. They looked for Leticia, too, but their repeated efforts to find her were fruitless. Leticia grew up and started her own family, and after more than 40 years of not speaking with the Shermans, she lost hope of ever finding them again.
Then one day, Leticia's daughter asked her if she had ever tried using Facebook to locate the Shermans. She had not, but with a few clicks, she was able to find them and a reunion of a lifetime was set into motion.
"When I saw it was her [on Facebook] it was the greatest moment of my life," Pat recalls.
Leticia booked a flight to California and brought her daughter with her in January 2015 to see the Shermans in Palo Alto, where they now live. The group reunited and through tear-filled laughter, Leticia embraced the people who had accepted her as family and helped her through the darkest time of her life.
After so many years, Pat, her now grown children and Leticia excitedly shared stories from their time apart. The Shermans were thrilled to learn that Leticia had grown up to be a strong, successful home owner and matriarch of a large family.
They were humbled to hear that she credits much of her success to not only the surgical care she was able to receive for her burn injuries, but to their care for her and the way they brought her into their family.
Watch some clips from their emotional reunion in the video story below created by NBC Bay Area: