Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz
Dora Tucker Houfek gets a surprise birthday visit at The Villages at Lynx Creek clubhouse from grandson, Caleb Baber, who had both legs amputated below the knees after an electrocution accident this past fall.
Dora Tucker Houfek knew her family was throwing her a 75th birthday bash at The Villages at Lynx Creek in January. What she didn't know was who would attend.
She wasn't surprised family members traveled from Nebraska, her home state. What astonished Houfek, who has lived in Prescott Valley since 1999 and in the park for three years, was when 20-year-old grandson, Caleb Baber, walked in her door from Norfolk, Neb., the day before her party.
On Sept. 20, Baber nearly died after a fall from a high-voltage transmission pole and a 69,000-volt jolt of electricity. On Oct. 28, doctors amputated both of his severely burned legs below the knees.
His grandma certainly did not expect him to board an airplane and travel halfway across the country in January.
Baber and five other Lee University (Tenn.) students went hiking on a river walk trail in the Cherokee National Forest on Sept. 20. Hoping for a glimpse of the Ocoee River, Baber climbed a Tennessee Valley Authority pole. He doesn't remember much after that. He only knows he should have died from the fall or the electrocution; his injuries were extensive, the region he was in remote.
Fortunately, his roommate is a certified EMT who "did whatever he could to keep me alive," until rescuers arrived. Baber said.
He spent nearly a month in intensive care, underwent 15 separate surgeries and now wears a prosthetic right leg. Complications have prevented him getting the prosthesis for his left, but he is determined to have it, to walk without crutches and to drive again.
Mostly, he wants to continue helping the Dalit people of India.
As a seventh grade member of a church youth group, Baber learned about the Sud. Z youth movement in India. He was part of a group that raised $23,000 to build an elementary school in Uddamarry, India, and in 2006, Baber witnessed the school's construction.
He also became a sponsor through the Dalit Freedom Network for four boys there, and that's where his heart lies.
"Every person I know (who went on the trip) has been changed dramatically," he said. "We saw kids who couldn't wait to get to school."
The Dalits - some 250- to 300 million of them - are the "untouchables," considered the lowest in India's caste system.
"They are not privileged but are prevented from going to school," Baber said. "The kids start working at age eight or nine. It's hard to understand how that still goes on in the world, but it's the Hindu system. The Dalit (Freedom Network) goal is to see to their education and lift them up."
Baber's personal goal is to help them understand God.
"They don't have a picture of who God is," he said. "They need to know, 'Jesus died for you. You are created in His image.'"
Part of that involves simply physically touching the untouchable, and he is getting another chance to do that right now. Baber left for India Feb. 20 to attend the very first graduation of a Dalit student from any school. He will return to Norfolk March 2.
Baber said he believes God is sovereign and allowed his difficulties because it's part of His plan, to glorify Him.
In his blog, he wrote of his visit to Arizona and interview with this reporter, "It was good to get to share my heart for the Dalit people with her more than my journey up this recovery hill."
His physical recovery will be lengthy. His emotional recovery seems to already have taken place. Baber plans to return in the fall to Lee University, where he majors in biochemistry with a pre-med emphasis. His ultimate goal - to be a medical missionary to wherever God leads him.
Anyone wishing to help the young man with medical expenses may contact the Elkhorn National Bank in Norfolk, Neb., and refer to the Caleb R. Baber Medical Fund.
Those who would like to encourage Caleb Baber may send letters to: 132 Hillside Dr., Norfolk, NE 68701.