“In all the years that I have been involved with helping Avi Mekonen, I could never look at his face directly because of how badly disfigured he was. I always found a way to avoid looking at him straight in the face. Over the last few years, when Avi’s treatment became very intensive, I pretended to myself that Avi is simply wearing a mask that one day will come off. This made it easier for me in my interpersonal relationship with him,” Yitzchaka Jackson discloses with deep feeling. Then, her spirit rising, she declares with conviction: “I truly believe that with people’s help, we will be able to give Avi a normal life. I hope that one day he will be able to walk proud, with his head high, and not feel ashamed or embarrassed in the company of others.”
Who is this Avi and what is his tragic story? Avi Mekonen was three years old, living in his native Gondar, in Ethiopia, when he fell, face down into a flaming open pit. As a result the little boy’s face became a mass of scarred and distorted tissue, with a missing eye, nose and ear.
Shortly thereafter, the Mekonen family was airlifted to Israel in the historic “Operation Shlomo.” Yitzchaka’s husband, Dr. Steve Jackson, at the time an officer in the Israel Air Force 669Search and Rescue Unit, took part in this mission – he and Avi were on the same plane.
Despite his shocking appearance Avi’s sweet and charming demeanor helped him adjust to life in Israel, as did wearing a woolen hat that covered half of his face. Initially turned down for military service, Avi fought tenaciously and was eventually allowed to volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces where his superior officers found him to be an excellent soldier and an inspiration to others.
After Avi completed his IDF service, Yitzchaka and Steve Jackson committed themselves to giving this valiant young man a second chance at life. Sparing no effort, in 2004 Yitzchaka flew to Boston with Avi, so he could be examined by the world’s leading reconstructive plastic surgeon. This surgeon recommended, and eventually performed major surgery on Avi, generously waiving his fee, while the local Jewish community helped pay for the hospital stay!
The surgery was successful and paved the way for subsequent surgical procedures that Avi has undergone in Israel. These prepared him for a custom-fit state of the art prosthetic eye and ear, which Avi received in Memphis, Tennessee. Yitzchaka and Steve Jackson were delighted with the results, which allow Avi Mekonen to walk freely without a cap, unselfconscious about his looks.
So far this remarkable couple have devoted nineteen years of caring for Avi – searching for expert medical advice, traveling, raising funds, providing emotional and physical support. But the work is far from over. The results thus far are not perfect .The prosthetic apparatus requires maintenance and there are still surgical procedures to be performed.
To cover the cost of all foreseeable expenses, a brilliant and formidable method of fund-raising occurred to Yitzchaka Jackson. A former pediatric head nurse, a hard-working lawyer and a busy wife and mother, she decided to run in the New York Marathon this coming November 6th under the slogan “I Run For Avi!” (See her T-shirt in the picture).
Please help Yitzchaka help Avi by sponsoring this crucial run. Her goal is to raise $42,000 ($1,000 for each of the 42 kilometers that she will be running in the marathon.) For more information on how to participate in this incredible mitzvah visit http://www.irunforavi.com/how-to-donate.