Batting leadoff for the Lawrence High baseball team today against rival Free State, playing whatever position his team needs him to play, will be C.J. Stuever, No. 13. Triskaidekaphobics need not waste time trying to persuade the LHS senior he is bound to bring bad luck upon himself for daring to wear that number. To hear Stuever tell it, his is a lucky life.
For parts of the past three summers, Stuever, his two older sisters and his parents have been on trips helping organizations that deliver desperately needed medical relief to remote locations. In 2010 and 2011, the family and others lent aid in Ethiopia at a medical clinic known as Operation Rescue, partially funded by Fields of Promise, a nonprofit Lawrence organization. In 2012, they set up makeshift medical clinics in schoolhouses along the Amazon River in Peru.
“I feel really blessed to have the parents that I have for giving me the opportunity to go on these trips,” Stuever said of physician Kevin Stuever and nurse practitioner Sue Stuever. “Even though it’s not a trip to Hawaii or the Bahamas, I’d take these trips over those any day. Anybody can go hang out on a beach for a week. I love these trips because of the human connections you make with people.”
C.J. said he often thinks of those experiences and his memories are not those shared by many American teenagers.
When his mind drifts to Ethiopia, C.J. sees a boy named Hagos who lived in an “HIV house” with seven or eight other children who had tested positive.
“My sister’s friend who went with us nicknamed him Chubby Smiley because he was this chunky little kid who was always happy, never saw him upset,” he said. “He knew he was sick but was just happy as can be all the time. The second year, before we went to the orphanage and saw the kids we went to a church with one of the people who ran the orphanage. Hagos was there, and his face just lit up. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”
Stuever also sees the face of the woman who ran the house where the HIV-positive children lived.
“She lived there full-time with these kids and she (was HIV-positive) too,” he said. “She helped administer the drugs to them, kept them in line and made sure they were healthy. She was one of the most amazing people we met.”
Stuever said he was given various assignments, including educating the “360-plus children” at the orphanage on basic preventive measures to avoid germs, such as washing hands and not sharing drinking cups.
“Because of the language barrier, we really couldn’t talk much,” he said. “We showed them as much as we could.”
He said he also conducted eye tests in Ethiopia and in the Amazon.
“There are a lot of eye infections in both places,” he said. “We took a couple of hundred pairs of reading glasses and ran out of them on the second day in the Amazon.”
Upon returning to Ethiopia for a second trip, Stuever said everyone was uplifted to see the progress that had been made and the care the children were receiving.
Last summer, the Stuevers joined the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children on a trip to Peru, treating patients in small villages along the Amazon River.
When he thinks back on that experience, he remembers long boat trips, the same meal every night (chicken, rice and noodles), sleeping in a tent and being awakened by a rooster’s crow at sunrise every morning. And he sees “a big bear of a man, just as nice as can be.” Richard Griffith is a minister in Colorado and a retired NFL tight end. He played with the New England Patriots (1993) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2000).
“He was an incredible person, one of those people who always makes you feel good about yourself,” Stuever said. “He could get all of the patients to smile, even though he didn’t have any idea what they were saying.”
In contrast, Stuever had an idea what some of the patients were saying. Those Spanish classes through the years came in handy when he assisted the pharmacist on the trip. Translators from a university in Lima were needed to help with those who only spoke “another language on the river, more of a tribal language,” Stuever said.
When Stuever’s thoughts drift to the Amazon he sees a woman on what became an operating table, an air mattress sitting on top of two school desks that had been pushed together. He watched as a surgeon removed “a growth the size of my fist” from above her hip.
Stuever and other young teenagers on the trip were treated to the pleasure of pulling teeth using a pair of pliers after the dentist had applied a numbing agent.
“In a week of clinics we pulled, I want to say, 900 teeth,” Stuever said. “I got to pull two of them.”
All the work was documented and someone came up with the idea to have a contest to guess how many patients were treated during that week. Stuever said he won by having the closest guess to 1,501.
The past three summers have convinced Stuever he wants to follow his father’s path and become a physician. He said he plans to play baseball at Johnson County Community College and already has set a class schedule that includes “chemistry labs and a cellular molecular biology class.”
He has pitched for LHS this season and has played short, second, left and right and looks forward to playing today on Kansas University’s diamond, Hoglund Ballpark.
“A lot of times I think we can take playing there for granted because we get to play there a couple of times during the season and then in summer ball, but it’s pretty big-time playing at a Division I facility,” he said. “Not a lot of high school teams get to do that.”
Stuever has seen too much of the world to take much of anything for granted.