© Don Burns, March 26, 2012

The doctor spoke to us in guarded tones when we went in for the first sonogram.   My wife, Denise, had become pregnant in, what the doctor referred to as an “advanced age”.  She is 42.  The pregnancy was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.  Our 10 year old daughter Ande, named after the Andes mountains, was with us as we were anxious to find out the gender of the little life forming inside the womb.  I so wanted a boy, but was not at all disappointed to find that little “Yapa” was a girl.  “Yapa” is the term used in Quechua to refer to “something added” or “something extra”.  It was similar to a “baker’s dozen” in English, an extra handful of whatever the ladies were selling you at the market, after all had been measured out.    This new one was, indeed, our icing on the cake, our little “extra” to complete our family, and “Yapa” was her name until we could find the permanent one.

“She has a blemish in her brain”.  The doctor addressed Denise and me in a tone that he hoped Ande would disregard as being serious concern.  “It may not be anything, and often disappears after a few weeks, but given your advanced age, it is something we should pay attention to, should you want to measure your options”.   Denise and I understood what he meant by “measure your options” and were, in fact, somewhat taken aback that this would be a normal consideration.  With no hesitation, we told the doctor that we would accept the baby that God had given us and love her just as she is.  We are committed to bringing her into life, and caring for her the best way we know how.

The following weeks were not without worry and daily prayer for  “Yapa”.  Now that we knew her gender, Denise selected a name for her that she has always been partial to: Noelle.  We played with several other names for her middle name.  Internally, we wondered what our lives would be like if little Noelle turned out to be a child that turned our lives upside down with special needs.  

Denise went in for another sonogram a few weeks later.  I wasn’t present for this one, but I got a text message immediately after her appointment that announced that whatever had shown up in the first sonogram was now gone.  We were so thankful and aware that, for whatever reason, it appeared that God had chosen a normal development path for little Noelle.  From this awareness of God’s grace toward us, Noelle’s middle name emerged: Fortunita.  And so, she is named after someone who is very important in our lives and whose story will be told through Noelle’s middle name.  

The telling starts here.

I was two years old when my parents, Don and Nadine Burns, working with Wycliffe Bible Translators1, were assigned to work with the Quechua people in the highlands of Peru, and we settled in a town named Ayacucho, in the heart of the country.  It was a town that was destined to play an important role in the political and revolutionary development in coming decades, but this was the early 1960’s and tumultuous times were still lying in the future.  For now, my folks set out to learn the native tongue, establish lasting relationships and focus on education for the underprivileged.  Native locals also refer to Ayacucho by the Quechua name: Huamanga.

My mom started a literacy class for the Quechuas, during the week in one of the community churches, teaching reading and writing to them in their own language of Quechua.  One of the attendees to her classes was a young girl, age 12, named Fortunita, meaning “Little Fortune”.  She would arrive carrying her little brother or little sister on her back in a manta, a multi-colored shawl used to carry infants and small children.   What transpired, I’ll tell in Fortunita’s own words, as told through her daughter 2.

“I attended the literacy classes taught by the missionary lady and there I saw a cute little gringito boy so I tried to sit near him and play with him.  One day, the missionary lady asked, using the wife of the pastor as a translator, ‘Would you like to take care of this little boy?’.  I was thrilled and I accepted without even asking my parents, and that, yes, I wanted to visit the house of the missionaries.  That day, I did see their house, and I remember eating Donofrio ice cream for the first time and thinking how good it was!  I returned home that day in the evening very excited and told my mother [Mama Candelaria] all that had happened.  My mother supported my decision to go live with the missionaries, but the most difficult part would be to tell my father.  As we thought, he did not accept the decision because he was embarrassed at what the other workers at the hacienda would think of him.

“Early in the morning, my father [Tayta Emilio] left to go work as a cargador3 in the market at Huamanga.   My mother said, ‘Get your things together and go to the missionaries, there you will learn what you need to learn for life, more than I can teach you, I don’t even know how to speak Spanish’.   So, I went to the missionaries’ house and my mother said she would take care of talking to my father.

“I remember that I said to the missionary lady when I got to their house.  “Ya me he venido de mi casa a vivir con ustedes” [ “I have now come to live in your house” - in probably the best Spanish Fortu could muster at the time].  

I remember that she took me in with much love and taught me how to care for her little boy.  But my life also changed drastically, from sleeping on the floor on a sheepskin mats, wool blankets, to sleeping on a bed with white sheets.  The first night I would not accept sleeping on the bed, thinking, ‘How could I sleep on this bed, I will get it dirty’.  But the missionary lady insisted that I should sleep on the bed, because, as she said, ‘There is no where else for you to sleep!’.    I remember that she also gave me new clothing to wear.  

“From that day on, she became mama Nadine.  She showed me so much love, a love one would feel from one’s parents, never letting me go hungry, always keeping me well clothed and educated, eating together as a family.  I became much more than the one who took care of the little boy, and more like one of the family, and a big sister to Danicito.”

One day, Mama Candelaria, after Fortu had been living with us for a short while, came to the house and communicated, as best she could, in Spanish with my Mom. She expressed in a few words the hardships of a life, of, in essence, slave labor, where the land owners took advantage of the impoverished to advance the products of their farms, and keep them subdued, and how, if Fortunita lived at home with her, she would be forced to work for the hacendado.  She was very thankful that Fortunita was now living with us.  She said, in what must have been a very difficult statement:  

“Take my daughter, she is your daughter now.”

My mother replied, “She will always be your daughter and yours will always be her home, but we will take care of her, feed, clothe, house and educate her.”

Fortunita helped my mother with the cooking and cleaning, attended school and became an integral part of our family.  Her family soon became a part of our family as well and we got to know her sisters Hermelinda, Carmen and Anita and little brother Bonifacio as well as her father, Tayta Emilio and mother, Mama Calendaria.   We all learned a lot about the Quechua culture and language through her and her family.  We spoke English at home, mostly, and Fortunita would never admit to knowing any English.  However, I often caught her laughing when someone would say something humorous, and she would occasionally find something my mom had been looking for after she had only mentioned it in English.  So,  I’m sure she picked up some English through natural osmosis.

When I was little, Fortunita would often take me to the market on her back in a manta.  Of course, without the gringo adults around to make the Quechua ladies behave, they would poke me and squeeze my cheeks and touch my blonde hair and say “¡añañau!”.  Fortunita would ward them off and scold them to protect me.  She came to be my big sister.

One day, when Fortu was 15, she was staying with the Carlson family, Wycliffe members who were also in Ayacucho at the time, and she became very sick.

Fortunita recalls (told through her daughter):

I remember that I was staying with the Carlson family and I began to feel badly.  I had severe pain in the back of my head and my face was beginning to paralyze, and I could not go out in the sun as my eyes would tear up.  My body hurt all over and every day I felt worse.  The Carlsons sent me home [ with Mama Candelaria and Tayta Emilio] to rest.  While I was there, though, I got worse.  I had terrible nightmares where people would laugh at me and want to crush me.  I would escape, but finally someone got to me and crushed my belly and my head with his hand and knee.  I was frightened and desperate.

My parents went and found papa Donald and he came and treated me like a daughter, he worried about me and got me immediate medical attention.

My mom was at Yarinacocha, the Wycliffe center, for the yearly conference, and my Dad had just returned from a trip to the U.S.  While on ham radio trying to talk to Yarinacocha, a knock came on the door.   My Dad opened to the door to Fortunita’s parents, who told him about Fortu’s condition and brought him to her.

My Dad saw the severe paralysis that made Fortunita’s face sink into a non-responsive, non-expressive state and immediately took Fortu to see a colleague at the University of Huamanga who was a neurologist.  He said that Fortunita’s paralysis was a common type, due to a tumor at the base of her skull and recommended that she be taken to Lima to consult with a specialist there.  

Dad writes in his memoirs (“The Final Stretch” -  yet to be published):

I experienced one of those strange times in which I felt very deeply that God was working to manifest Himself and I wanted to close all other doors that might be used to explain in natural and human ways what He was doing in this very  complicated  situation.   I wanted to assure myself and for Fortu and her family that God was very much in this business of Fortu’s condition  and was very seriously engaged in working in His loving way to do something special for Fortu.

So, Dad accompanied Fortunita to Lima and my Mom flew in from Yarinacocha to meet them there as well.  

In Lima Fortunita was seen by the University’s head of neurology.  After running a battery of tests, the grave diagnosis came back.  Yes, Fortunita had a tumor the size of a golf ball at the base of her skull.  Given the facilities of the time, it was inoperable.  The doctor gave Fortunita six weeks to live and described what her death would be like.  The paralysis would continue to spread into her neck and throat and she would eventually be unable to eat, or unable to breathe and she would die of asphyxiation.  

The doctor said that he was 90% certain of his diagnosis, but offered to run further tests to confirm it.  His attitude was somewhat dismissive because of Fortunita’s social status.  My Father insisted that the tests be run, hoping against hope that he was wrong, but, he was not.  His diagnosis was then confirmed by two other doctors.

Dismissive, again, the doctor suggested that Fortunita go home and die with her family.  But the thought of her dying in great pain and panic, seemed unusually cruel.  My Dad asked about putting her in the cancer terminal ward at the hospital, where they could keep her comfortable and out of pain until she passed.  The doctor agreed.

My parents returned with Fortunita to the Wycliffe group home that day under a tremendous weight.  Outside pressures required them to return to Ayacucho, so arrangements were made for Fortunita to stay with the Shannon family, Wycliffe members in Lima at the time, until arrangements could be made with the cancer ward.  The night before heading back to Ayacucho, my parents invited anyone who wanted to participate to join in prayer for Fortunita.

James 5:14-16

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

In obedience to the this scripture, Fortunita was anointed with oil and all gathered around her and prayed for her.  There were prayers in English, Spanish and finally, Fortunita prayed as well in Quechua, though she was hard to understand, her mouth twisted from the paralysis.  My mom helped her memorize the scripture Phillipians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.  

Back in Ayacucho, Dad kept regular radio schedules with Al Shannon, who reported on the first contact that Fortunita was recovering and the paralysis was beginning to reverse!  Mom and Dad returned to Lima as soon as possible.  Dad invited the head of neurology, who had been dismissive and cold in his earlier diagnosis to examine Fortunita again.  Quoting again from Dad’s memoirs:

Now back in Lima with Fortu showing symptoms of total recovery of her physical condition, I invited him to accompany me to the Shannon’s home to see her personally.  He was delighted to do so.  When on the front porch of the Shannon’s, he saw Fortu now almost totally recovered, he took her hand in his and said, with a lot of tenderness, “My science and all of my studies were on the line in this serious case.  I have to confess that I could not do for you, Fortunita, what God has evidently done, by totally healing you.”

Fortunita recalls that after the night of prayer for her, that the nightmares ceased, the headaches went away, her eyes no longer teared up in the sun, she no longer had a fear of leaving her room and she began to get better day after day.

Fortunita recovered completely, returned to Ayacucho and went on to live a very full life.   She married Walter Parado, who later studied to become a pastor.  Fortunita and Walter had four kids, Dany, Alicia, Efrain, and Nadine.  Nadine was named for my mother, and Dany was named after me (the pronunciation of my childhood name, “Donny” sounds like Dany [dah-ni], in Spanish).  A few years ago, daughter Nadine2, having graduated as a professional accountant, came to live with my wife and me in the U.S. to study English.  My wife, my sister Linda, my daughter Ande and I all travelled down for her wedding, a year after she returned to Peru.

Today, Fortunita and Walter have nine grandchildren.  Their children are actively involved in the church that Walter pastors in Huaycan, Peru, a satellite city of Lima, where poverty is the norm.

Fortunita still has a slightly crooked smile, left over from the paralysis, but as a reminder of the miracle that her life is.  One might think of the miracle as being the healing of her physical illness.  I see the miracle as the life that followed, the children that were raised and the people that have been touched by the lives of this family.

Feburary 6, 2012, 8:10 PM, in Campbell, CA, little Noelle Fortunita Burns was born, healthy, happy and ready to take on the world.  We are honored to be able to remember Fortunita Jauregui Parado in Noelle’s middle name.  We remember that Noelle has also been entrusted in the hands of our Heavenly Father during her development.  We expect nothing less than a life that will touch the hearts of many through her.


1. Wycliffe Bible Translators.

2. Fortunita’s daughter Nadine was very helpful in relating an early version of this article to Fortunita, translating it from English to Spanish and getting Fortunita’s corrections and memories back to me.

3. Cargador.  The “cargador”, hauled items often four times their own size and weighing far more than anyone of their stature should be carrying, fueled by chewing coca combined with lime to increase the release of the active ingredients of the coca leaf.  In these days, many Quechuas chewed coca with lime as a means to kill the hunger and fuel energy needed to do hard labor.