By LARRY VAUGHT
Count Ariel Calahan as one Kentucky football fan who is thrilled with how the season went for the Wildcats.
“I’m so proud of the team. Even when they started having a few hiccups they didn’t let the negative fans or attention keep them down,” said Calahan. “I for one am super happy for a 9-3 season. I’m excited for the seniors and forever thankful for them. Many of them came to Kentucky when we was 2-10 in 2013 or 5-7 in 2014, but they stuck with us and because of that we are were we are now. We can keep getting better.”
She wasn’t worried about what bowl game Kentucky would be in. She already knew she was going.
“We gotta send these seniors out with a bang. No way I’ll miss it and others need to make the trip. too,” Calahan, who lives in Lexington, said.
She’s going to be in Kenya for Christmas because she has friends there who run a hospital for orphans and she wants to spend the holidays helping them. However, her flight is scheduled to land in Atlanta Dec. 27.
“So unless the children lock me in the hospital, I will be there. I might be asleep but I’ll be there,” she said. “Kenya is eight hours ahead of us , so I will be trying to get my body back on American time. This last summer it was rough. It takes about one day per hour time difference, so I’ll be on about day 4/5. If you see me looking like a zombie that would be why.”
Her friend, Amy Hehre, first started thinking about a hospital for orphans who could not access treatment when she was working as a volunteer medical assistant at a small mission hospital in Africa when she was only 20 years old. Her friend envisioned a hospital that could provide free, life-saving care for orphans and started working to make the dream come true. Hehre friend went to Migori, Kenya, to do research during the summer of her junior and senior years of college at Kentucky.
“By graduation, Amy had completed her honors thesis which outlined her plan of action. One year later, she registered OVI as a 501(c)3 public charity. And In 2017, we opened the doors of OVI Children’s Hospital for the 34 million orphans of Sub-Saharan Africa,” Calahan said. “Establishing OVI was a true fight for Amy and (her husband) Rob. They had less than nothing financially and really lacked support for their vision. Fortunately, they chose to have faith in their calling and trusted in ultimate provision of resources despite the resistance they met along the way.”
Now they have a five-story hospital that employs 46 full-time Kenyan staff members and has nearly 300 ambassadors across the United States. Calahan originally signed up as an ambassador and knew she would eventually visit the hospital.
“I knew I needed to go because I’m telling everyone and anyone who will listen to me about these children but sometimes people think it’s made up or not real, but since I went to the hospital, I have proof it’s real. People are more willing to listen to your story when you have lived it,” Calahan said.
“From the very moment I walked into the hospital and saw the smiles and heard the laughs of children who have no one, who are in a hospital bed, who really have nothing to fight for, my world stood still. I couldn’t think of anything or anywhere I’d rather be. Nothing else seemed to matter,” Calahan said. “I watched one boy feed his friend lunch before he ate his lunch because ‘he needs a little more help.’
“It truly was a eye opener that even here in America we should be looking out for our friends who might need a little more help. I pray every day for them.”
The hospital’s goal is to get those health enough to return to orphanages or family members if they are willing to take them. However, the reality is that not all get better and survive. One child who passed away left a lasting impression on Calahan.
“He changed my life. I’m so thankful for the two weeks I got to spend with him. Singing songs, giving some pretty intense high fives and seeing his smile light up the room. He didn’t talk, only sang. I’m so thankful for OVI Children’s Hospital, Amy, Rob and the rest of the staff who gives these kids a fighting chance when no one else will,” Calahan said.
Calahan’s family sponsors a child — Charity.
“She is halfway a cross the world but we got to FaceTime with her. She is roughly 8 years old, orphans don’t really know when their birthdays are,” Calahan said. “She is non verbal but you can tell she understands everything you say to her. Her smile will light up a room. Her laugh is the most precious thing I’ve ever heard. I get pictures and videos of her while I’m back home in America and they are what get me through the day. Many people say she needs me, but really I need her.”
Calahan didn’t plan to make a second trip to Kenya this year, especially after being there just five months ago. She set a price in her mind for a roundtrip air ticket she could afford — and eventually found one $100 lower than her limit. So on Thursday, she’s headed to Kenya for Christmas with her friends.
“I will be leaving America to spend Christmas with the most amazing children and showing them what a true Christmas is,” Calahan said. “These children have never experienced a Christmas before and that’s what I plan on doing.”
This Big Blue fan collected pajamas, coloring books and candy so each child at the hospital could have a Christmas stocking and present. She’ll miss being with her parents here at Christmas, but still thinks this will be her best Christmas ever.
“There is nothing better than seeing a child’s smile on Christmas morning. Being there will be the best Christmas gift,” Calahan said.
She’ll get to see Winnie, a patient who was not expected to make it to Christmas but Amy Hehre got approval for chemotherapy — something that had not been done in Migori, Kenya — and Winnie “defied all odds” to survive.
“She had energy during chemo, she grew hair, she gained weight. Her tumor literally fell out. What started as ‘lucky to get her to Christmas’ is now 100 percent cancer free,” Calahan said.
The hospital’s website is ovinternational.org and Calahan says if you would like to help you can become an ambassador and sponsor a child. You can make a donation at the website or mail a donation to OVI; P.O. Box 250 ; Somerset, KY 42502.
“You can even volunteer at the hospital — and I am so non-medical,” she said.
You can reach Calahan by email (Ariel.firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact her on Facebook at Ariel Brachell Calahan.
She would love to meet UK fans at the bowl game who might want more information on the hospital.
“If you will be at the bowl game feel free to contact me. I’d love to meet y’all and tell you first hand about my trip,” Calahan said. “I might even have little souvenirs from the children to give to people who see me at the game.”