Unlikely friend and OrthoCarolina work together to provide Liberian woman life-changing surgery

Unlikely friend and OrthoCarolina work together to provide Liberian woman life-changing surgery
(Sarah-Blake Morgan | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Oretha Joe has the type of presence that puts one at ease. She's soft-spoken, kind and grateful for the blessing that's recently come her way.

Oretha is from Liberia. She's always been active, taking care of others and traveling as a leader in the country's ACFI Church. But Spinal Stenosis started to slow her down.

"I have been sick for some time with my spine and it was very severe. I could not move. I had to live on medication. Pain relief every day," Oretha said.

Poverty and war have changed Liberia, which was once a vibrant nation. Oretha couldn't get the care she needed at home and needed a miracle.

That came in the unexpected form of a man from Charlotte named Bob Bridges.

"I walked into the ACFI guesthouse in 2008 after arriving on a 36-hour flight to get to Liberia. And she takes care of all the foreign guests when they go to Africa. And she was preparing meals and getting water for me," Bridges said.

Bridges and his wife adopted two boys from Liberia 10 years ago. And from day one Oretha helped with the transition.

"She began to give me advice as to here's how Liberian's parent that's different from the way American's parent. And here are the things you need to be aware of and I can already see you're trying to do this but it won't work," Bridges said.

Their bond grew over the years as Bob traveled back and forth to the capital, Monrovia. Each time he see's his friend, Oretha.

But this summer, he noticed her struggle. Oretha's back problems had made it impossible for her to function normally.

"I thought to myself, I'm not going to let this go. I'm going to work the whole process until hopefully Lord willing we can get her here and have a procedure done," he said.

A few phone calls later and Bruce Darden, a surgeon at the OrthoCarolina Spine Center had agreed to operate on Oretha free of charge.

"She was amazed. She couldn't believe it. She couldn't stop thanking me. I said, don't thank me. I haven't done that much. I've just made phone calls and asked questions," Bridges said.

Oretha touched down in Charlotte on Christmas Eve.

"I landed and it was quite different. The first thing I noticed was the snow," she said

Darden was able to decompress Oretha's lower lumbar spine to take pressure off her spinal sack and nerves. The surgery went off without a hitch.

In April, she'll travel back to Liberia grateful as ever for her faith and the friend it found her.

"I will be a new person," she said. "And I'm going to work harder."

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