RICHMOND, Va. -- Ten-year-old Saule Sadykova is curious bundle of energy with a sunny disposition. She is a long way from a dark place she once called home. Saule’s parents thought she was cursed and abandoned her at birth because of her disabilities.
Virginia native Vicki Charbonneau knew otherwise. She befriended Saule at an orphanage in Kazakhstan.
"Just cute as a button. There was a spark in her," Charbonneau recalled.
Charbonneau visited the former Communist country with fellow members of her church in 2000. Five years ago, she moved there and opened J127 Ranch with a friend.
Their mission -- to help children and single mothers by providing shelter, spiritual guidance and a sense of self-worth.
"Caring for kids. Marginalized kids is what I do. Every life is precious," Charbonneau said. "I’m not good at fundraising. I’m not good at a lot of things, but I am good at loving kids. I saw the desperation with the kids. They didn’t have any chances."
The woman who never liked to travel, followed her heart to a foreign land. It was a decision that would change the course of many lives.
"I’ll do anything I can for them," she said. "I get more joys and blessings than I can express."
In July, Vicki raised enough money to fly Saule and her foster parents to Richmond where surgeons at Chippenham Hospital awaited. Those doctors volunteered their services to mend the little girl on the outside and in.
"It has been an awesome experience getting to know her and her family," Dr. Christopher Kim said. "If we can help. If it is in our power there is no reason why we shouldn’t jump in."
"She looks great every day. It is very functional. She should do great from here on out," Dr. Darrin Hubert added. "You just can’t quantify it. It is just so fantastic. It reminds us of why we do these things."
With her cleft lip and eye repaired and new prosthetic leg, Saule has enjoyed the simple pleasures like jumping.
"I’m riding. I’m jumping. I’m horse riding. I’m playing. I’m swimming," a beaming Saule said.
In days Vicki will return to Kazakhstan to continue her mission.
"I’m 53 years old. I can’t imagine a better life," Vicki said. "I might not have much in my checking account. But I am one of the richest women around I think."
Saule will be with Vicki on the long trip half way around the world. The little girl who was once abandoned will carry with her a new perspective on life.
Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email firstname.lastname@example.org.