Tanzanian Woman With Albinism Gets New Arms

PHOTO Mariamu Staford, 28, was the victim of a brutal albino attack in Tanzania.
Share
Copy

On a cold winter evening, a soft-spoken, 28-year-old single mother from rural Tanzania stepped off a plane at Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C., with high hopes. The goal of her trip: a shot at life.

It was 28-year-old Mariamu Staford's first time outside of Tanzania; but as she approached customs, an agent wouldn't let her through, claiming she refused to be fingerprinted. It wasn't that she wouldn't, but that she couldn't.

VIDEO: After gruesome attack, Mariamu Staford helps raise awareness on albino killings.
Tanzanian With Albinism Visits Capitol Hill

A year ago, both of Staford's arms were chopped off -- part of a brutal campaign of death in her native country. Men armed with machetes stormed Staford's hut while she was sleeping, she told ABC News, and began cutting at her arms in a gruesome attempt to amputate them.

Click here to find out how to help Tanzanians with albinism

Persons with albinism, like Staford, are being hunted down and murdered; their bodies sold on the black market and used in witchdoctor potions, all because of a superstitious belief that the limbs of albinos possess special powers. Nearly 60 albinos have been murdered in the last three years.

Woman Gets New Limbs After Attack

The attack rendered Staford an invalid. Unable to feed or clothe herself, or care for her young son, she yearned for independence.

"I'm a grown person, but I can't do anything," she told "20/20." "I used to be able to rely on myself, but now my mother must tend to my every need."

Staford thought her future was bleak. After meeting her last year, "20/20" helped mobilize a group of volunteers, who affectionately became known as "Team Mariamu," to bring Staford to the U.S. Leading the team was Vicky Ntetema, a Tanzanian journalist-turned-advocate, who bravely first exposed Staford's tragedy.

Eventually, a customs manager, who saw "20/20's" initial report about the grotesque phenomenon of albino killings, allowed Staford into the country.

Staford's first stop was an appointment with Elliot Weintrob, the president of the Orthotic Prosthetic Center in Virginia, who would build a custom set of prosthetic limbs for Staford -- free of charge.

"You can't turn the other way when you see something like [Staford's gruesome attack]. You got to say, 'What can I do here to help?'" Weintrob said. "I don't think I had a choice. I see and hear a lot of things, but this went right to the top."

New Limbs, New Hope

Weintrob and his staff donated their time to make Staford a custom set of prosthetic limbs. It's a painstaking process of measuring and readjusting, where precision is a must. Double amputations, typically the fallout of war, are rarely seen in this county, but Weintrob and his team begin to recreate what was taken from Staford.

Weintrob built a basic prosthetic with hooks on the end to give Staford the most functionality. She must use the muscle in the stump of her arm to control the hooks.

When Weintrob was putting on the final touches, Staford asked him through an interpreter: "Are these my real arms or are you still testing?"

"These are the arms you will take home," he replied.

No translation was needed; Staford broke out in dance and song. After 14 months of misery, it was everything she had waited for.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Oscar de la Renta and Oprah Winfrey attend the Costume Institute Gala Benefit to celebrate the opening of the American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 8, 2010, in New York City.
Rabbani and Solimene Photography/WireImage/Getty Images
PHOTO: Up in Ash: Mount Sinabung Erupting
Tibt Nangin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
PHOTO: Firefighters rescue a woman who got stuck in a chimney in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Ventura County Fire Department
PHOTO: Apple Pay is demonstrated at Apple headquarters on Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo