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People In VIEW

She Guides Others on Road to Recovery

May 30, 1986|John Dreyfuss

Lorena Maribel Sanchez Reyes walked into a hospital room in Fort Worth last month to visit a despondent, 17-year-old who referred to herself as "human garbage."

The girl's legs had been amputated because of vasculitis, an inflammatory problem of the circulatory system.

"I told her that everything is possible with faith in God," Sanchez Reyes said. "When I left, she had faith and hope and the will to live."

Sanchez Reyes' message carried special meaning because she walked into the hospital room on artificial limbs.

The 18-year-old Mexican was studying computer science in a third-floor classroom of a five-story Mexico City school on Sept. 19, 1985, the day a devastating earthquake struck the city. She and her classmates were buried in debris. Sanchez Reyes' legs were crushed.

"As the hours passed (my friend) Ricela died," Sanchez Reyes said. "So did all the others, all but the two boys lying beside me. There were no more cries for help. Just silence."

It took three days for rescuers to reach the three youngsters, the only survivors among the school building's 233 occupants.

Doctors amputated Sanchez Reyes' legs, one above the knee, the other below.

Graciela Schaeffler, vice president of patient services at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, heard about Sanchez Reyes in Mexico City, where she had flown to deliver 1 1/2 tons of medical supplies for earthquake victims.

After visiting Sanchez Reyes and being impressed with her spirit and determination, Schaeffler returned to Los Angeles and told a friend about her. The friend told Michael Holm, owner of Beverly Orthotics, of Sanchez Reyes' plight. Holm donated artificial legs worth more than $8,000, Western Airlines flew Sanchez Reyes here, White Memorial donated more than $100,000 worth of care and therapy, and three staff doctors gave their medical services for five months, Schaeffler said.

She said a nurse in Fort Worth had heard about Sanchez Reyes and arranged for her to speak by phone with the despondent girl in his hospital. But then he paid for Sanchez Reyes' flight so she could visit the girl in person.

Sanchez Reyes flew home Thursday. "She's going to try to talk her family into letting her come back here to study computer science," Schaeffler said. "I think she can handle it. She's an extraordinary person."

Many Miles of Smiles

"Comedians, this is no joke," read the ad in Daily Variety, an entertainment industry newspaper. "Teach traffic school in your part time."

Ray and Linda Regan placed the ad for their Lettuce Amuse U-Laff-N-Learn Terrific School traffic school, an unlikely educational institution whose 24 teachers are professional comedians.

"We had a few funny teachers a year ago last April when we were A West Coast Driving School," Linda Regan said. "They always got the best evaluations from students. So we changed our name and started hiring only funny teachers." To teach in a California traffic school one must be licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, which requires passing a written 50-question exam.

Teachers don't follow established patters. They improvise, like Sue Breeze, 39, a comedian-turned-traffic-school-professor who is likely to wake a sleepy class with "traffic aerobics" ("OK now, on your feet, take a deep breath and . . . left turn arm signal, right turn arm signal, STOP! Left turn, right turn, STOP!") or by appearing in a "graduation" outfit featuring rhinestone-studded cap and shoes.

Whether such antics tickle bad drivers' funny bones, the system seems to work. Linda Regan said enrollment has increased 50% in the San Gabriel-based school since it became a funny business.

A Lasting Reflection

Happy Birthday Braille Mirror! An exhibition of printing and writing for the blind will honor 60 years of publication of Braille Mirror, which boasts a circulation second only to the Ladies' Home Journal among Braille magazines, editor Jody Avery said.

In honor of the magazine's anniversary, an exhibition opens Wednesday at the Braille Institute, 741 N. Vermont Ave. The show will include installations on various kinds of writing for the blind, such as a knotted string alphabet invented around 1820 in Scotland, alphabet letters made of wire, bead writing invented by a blind Wellesley College professor, and night writing, a system of dots invented by a French army officer who wanted to communicate with his troops at night. It was night writing from which Louis Braille in the early part of this century got the idea for the raised-dot alphabet that bears his name. The exhibit will have replicas of each installation that can be handled by the blind. Information: (213) 663-1111, ext. 274.

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