They are unlikely friends.
She is 63 and he is 24.
She lives in New Tampa, and he lives in Roatan, Honduras.
But Sally Hillman and William Brown-Santos have a friendship that transcends their ages and backgrounds, and now, Hillman is trying to help her friend.
Hillman and her husband, Dave, met Brown-Santos about seven years ago when the couple was taking a shore excursion off a cruise ship at the port of Roatan, Honduras.
They had visited a park to see the monkeys and parrots, and Brown-Santos was their tour guide.
Hillman felt an instant connection.
“He was so pleasant, and knowledgeable and funny,” she said.
At the end of the tour, Hillman approached Brown-Santos to let him know she would like to stay in touch. He gave her his contact information, but since he’s in the habit of shortening his last name to Brown, the letter she sent didn’t reach him.
About six months later, Hillman and her husband made the same cruise, this time taking the trip with her son and his friend.
While there, she overheard Brown-Santos’ voice, and they reconnected. This time, the connection stuck.
They began corresponding, then texting and sending messages via Facebook.
A couple of years later, Hillman went to Honduras again, this time with her daughter. They had the chance to spend time with Brown-Santos’ family.
All along, Hillman felt that Brown-Santos had been put in her life for a reason.
Then, on Feb. 9, she received a frantic call from Brown-Santos’ mother.
He had been driving his motorcycle at a high rate of speed, had skirted around a car parked on a curb, and ran head-on into a motorcyclist.
At the scene, he was choking on his own blood, until a friend intervened.
Brown-Santos’ injuries are severe.
He still can’t move his right arm and can barely move the first three fingers in his right hand. He lives with excruciating pain.
Hillman felt compelled to help.
She reached out to Dr. Michael Craven, a long-time chiropractor in Land O’ Lakes, where she used to live and who had treated her in the past.
She said she knew Craven to be a good man.
Craven said she talked to his wife and asked her if he would help, as a humanitarian, Christian gesture.
Craven agreed to help.
“When you see something in the community that touches your heart, and you have the opportunity to reach out and do something about it, that’s pretty much why we got involved,” Craven said.
So, Hillman set out to bring Brown-Santos to the United States.
That turned out to be much more complicated than expected. It took six months for Brown-Santos to get a visa.
He arrived on Aug. 18.
The next day, they went to see Craven.
After examining Brown-Santos, the chiropractor knew that there wasn’t a simple treatment plan for the injuries.
“It was just discouraging from that moment,” Hillman said.
Craven ordered an MRI from Rose Radiology, who discounted the rate for the case, and Craven picked up the rest of the expense, Hillman said.
They got the MRI results. The result was a torn labrum. It’s called a SLAP lesion, which stands for superior labrum, anterior, posterior.
Next, they went to Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel.
“I told them the whole story,” Hillman said.
They examined Brown-Santos and consulted with the orthopedic surgeon on call.
Hillman and Brown-Santos did a follow-up appointment with the orthopedic surgeon.
“He’s fearful that this is permanent. He’s referred us to a neurologist,
That news hit her hard.
“I’m crying in the doctor’s office,” Hillman said. “I didn’t walk away with an optimistic view. That’s why I cried.”
The appointment with the neurologist, which was Sept. 25, involved another test to find out the extent of the damage.
“That will help to determine how severe the injuries are, and what possible steps could be taken,” Hillman said.
If surgery is required, Craven hopes an orthopedic surgeon will step forward to volunteer to handle the case. He doesn’t think a Go Fund Me account will raise a sufficient amount to cover those costs.
Brown-Santos is grateful for the help he’s received so far, and he’s prepared to face any outcome.
“It’s a blessing. It’s the first time in life somebody tried to do something nice for me,” Brown-Santos said.
“If I can get better, I’ll be the happiest man in the world. If not, that’s God’s plan, and I just have to live with that. I really truly believe in God. So, I’m just going to keep praying and have faith that everything can work for the good.
“If he doesn’t heal me, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.
“I’m going to just leave it in God’s hands,” Brown-Santos said.
Want to help? Go to William’s Recovery Fund at GoFundMe.com/mj3g9k7h.
Published September 30, 2015