Ieva Zitare, who lives in Latvia, never thought she would be able to go out of her apartment alone. Afflicted with a severe bone degenerative disease since early childhood, she had lost the use of her legs, and was slowly becoming unable to push herself in a conventional wheelchair.
A motorized wheelchair could be the answer to her dilemma, but the cost put that option out of reach. What kind of life could an 18-year-old woman expect, knowing that she would have to rely on her parents all her life?The wife of the Latvian ambassador to the United States, Irma Kalnins, became aware of the young lady's need and came to her aid. Ambassador Ojars Kalnins had traveled to Salt Lake City in 1995 and was aware of the Church's humanitarian work around the world. His wife decided to check that avenue to find help for Ieva.
Mrs. Kalnins shared her concern with Beverly Campbell, director of the Church's International Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., and Sister Campbell conveyed the request through appropriate channels to Salt Lake City.
Church officials were able to locate a wheelchair that would meet Ieva's needs. Ambassador and Mrs. Kalnins arranged for the wheelchair to be transported on the plane of Latvia President Guntis Ulmanis who was in the United States for a meeting with President Clinton. The chair was delivered to Kennedy Airport in New York City just in the nick of time and was loaded onto the president's plane.
However, the airport in Riga, the Latvian capital, was beset with protesters. The president would have to be whisked immediately from the airport with a police escort, and would be unable to personally present the wheelchair to its new owner.
Just a few hours before the president's plane was to arrive, missionaries serving in Riga were called to go to the airport. The elders met the president's plane, received the wheelchair, taught Ieva to use it and helped her family transport it to their apartment.
Mrs. Kalnins wrote a letter to the Church through Sister Campbell stating: "I believe that the work you are doing in Latvia is wonderful, with far-reaching benefits that perhaps will take some time to fully appreciate. But I can tell you one thing, there is a family in Latvia who now believes in the power of compassion and love."