A Ugandan who suffered a disfiguring attack at the hands of his own aunt is thankful for a lot of things on his first Thanksgiving. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Nov. 22, 2012.
You'd never know it by looking at 11-year-old Adolf Baguma. On Thanksgiving morning, he piloted a bicycle down a residential street in Thousand Oaks, not a care in the world, a toothy smile on his face.
But Baguma's young life was marked by tragedy and cruelty in his native Uganda.
Orphaned at a young age, he was seriously burned by a teenaged aunt, who threw flaming banana leaves on the backs of his legs as punishment for trying to take some food.
He was 5 years old.
The aunt then ran away, leaving Adolf to fend for himself, begging on the streets of the city in which he had been born.
Destitute and forgotten, he lost the use of his legs because the damaged skin behind his knees fused together -- the result of not getting treatment right away. By the time he turned up at a Ugandan orphanage, he was unable to walk, crawling across the floor to stay mobile.
"I don't know how this boy survived," said Eva Mbabazi, one of the orphange's caretakers. "He lost his mother; he lost his father. He doesn't have anyone to help."
A kind-hearted Southern California man decided that needed to change.
Laine Wagenseller was in Uganda on a mission, and immediately made plans to send Adolf to the United States for surgery. He made arrangements with his brother, Scott Wagenseller, and wife, Ashley, to host Adolf in their Thousand Oaks home -- a process made easier through the efforts of The Children's Burn Foundation, based in Sherman Oaks.
Carol Horvitz, one of the foundation's top managers, said such moves are crucial to children who are healing from serious burns.
"It's so important, I believe, to a child who's really been abandoned -- to find himself in the arms of a loving family," Horvitz said.
The foundation, a non-profit that can be found at www.childburn.org, helps thousands of children from all over the world every year, doing everything from paying for surgery to arranging "host families" like the Wagensellers.
The organization made arrangements for surgery at the world-renowned Grossman Burn Center, where Adolf has already undergone the first of several operations.
Adolf will live with Eva, during the treatment over the next six to eight months, Horvitz said.
Adolf's future is not quite clear. He may end up being adopted, said Horvitz, who has seen such success stories for burn victim children many times in the past.
For the moment, though, he is settling in to his host family's happy home. The Wagensellers have four other young children, and they planned a Thanksgiving feast for everyone.
It will be Adolf's first Thanksgiving. And he told us he has plenty to be thankful for.
"God is going to make me walk!" he said, smiling.