She slipped away before any of us were prepared to let her go. One day she seemed thoroughly engaged in the battle to conquer the cancer that ravished her body and the next day it overwhelmed her. The results of the early rounds of chemotherapy seemed encouraging, but the tumors yielded only a little ground and then yielded nothing at all. Organs failed but new medications stabilized them enough for her to be transferred to hospice care where she hoped to have enough time to write her history. But it was not to be. Amanda de Lange left this earthly life on July 12th at 51 years of age having accomplished more than most of us would expect to in a much longer sojourn on earth.
Faithful readers of Meridian are not unfamiliar with her name. Meridian first spotlighted her in this article. You will remember that this is the South African woman who, after her mission, graduated from BYU and then embarked on a career of teaching English in Asia. She often told us that since the marriage thing was not happening, she had asked God to give her an interesting life. She got it. Almost by happenstance she became interested in orphans in China, in the city of Xi’an where she lived.
But not any orphans. She was interested in the ones she referred to as “medically fragile,” those with cleft palettes or spina bifida, those whose futures were dim. She sought to rescue them. She scoured the large central orphanage of Xi’an for those that were damaged at birth and, therefore, abandoned.
She would patch them up, fix their defaults, and make them adoptable by Americans or Europeans anxious to bring another child into a loving home. She badgered local surgeons to repair holes in their hearts or arranged for visiting foreign medical teams to sew up cleft lips. Once these little ones were made whole, they were nurtured in the loving atmosphere of her foster home until they were matched with a family for adoption.
She started with six little ones in her apartment. This number grew slowly to about 50. It was always a struggle. She had no money. She operated on the generosity of strangers, largely from outside China. But slowly, slowly she built up the viability of the foster home through sheer grit and determination. Last year she moved into a newer, larger facility that had been refurbished by hundreds of volunteers from the United States and Europe. By then her financial base seemed more solid than before. At last she was set.
And then she collapsed. The doctors diagnosed diabetes, probably brought on by years of neglect of her own health in favor of the little ones who depended on her. But something else was amiss. Cancer was detected. Advanced cancer. She started treatment, and as she laid in her hospital bed an army of supporters slowly mobilized. Facebook lit up with hundreds of posts about her condition. High government officials came to her bedside to express appreciation for all that she had done for Xi’an’s disable children and promised to pick up all the hospital costs. This “Angel of Xi’an” was front-page news in all the local papers.
When her health did not improve, an army of volunteers in the United States-those who had adopted Chinese orphans from her foster home or had worked there-searched for stateside cancer centers where she could be treated. Eventually a place was found at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, which offered to treat her gratis.
Despite her desperate struggle for life, Amanda had some good times in Knoxville. On Memorial Day weekend, there was a gathering-a reunion of sorts-of many of her orphans who had found homes in the United States. They came with the families that had adopted them for a final visit with the woman who (in many cases) had saved their lives. For some, it had been two or three years since they had seen Amanda, but still they cried out, “Manda, Manda,” when they saw her. Now they were old enough to be in kindergarten. They spoke English as if it were their native language. The wounds from their various surgical procedures had healed. They were beautiful, healthy and vital. Often unable to stand for long, Amanda laidon a couch and cuddled again those little ones who had once laid in her arms as infants. It was a tearful, yet joyful reunion.
Though perhaps fearful of the dark specter that hung over her, Amanda still had reason to be pleased with her accomplishment. In a short seven years, 168 babies had passed through her foster home. There had been a total of 250 surgeries to repair them, and 81 had been adopted by their forever families. In the closing days of her life, Amanda posed for a picture. Although her long, curly hair had long ago fallen victim to the effects of chemo, her face reflected the serenity of a life well lived. For those of us who knew her well, we noted that she had retained her one indulgence: long, beautifully manicured fingernails. This photograph was a gift to us who have been left behind. She was giving to the end.