You can’t stop a Woman on Fire! by Debbie Phillips

ISSUE #100    From Debbie Phillips, Founder of Women on Fire®     September 18, 2011

You can’t stop a Woman on Fire!

Today I am introducing you to a Woman on Fire whose inspiring mid-career choice was one she might never have predicted or imagined.  It happened because she was just following her heart.

Pier Boutin, of Housatonic, Massachusetts, was hiking in a mountainous village in Morocco last year when her eye caught the tiny figures of a little boy stumbling and his five-year-old sister helping him up as he fell down with each step.

The little boy had a serious and debilitating case of “club feet” and Pier, a mother and an orthopedic surgeon, was drawn to this little boy and knew she had to do something.

Dr. Pier Boutin with “Little Amed” at home in the Berkshires; his legs are in casts from his groin to his toes; only 4, and far from his home in Morocco, he rarely cries and brings such love and presence to his American family!

In the village, she met the little boy’s family who speak Berber.  Through translators she explained that she could help him.  In his village, a deformity such as his would prevent him from receiving an education or being employed.

Pier did what a Woman on Fire does.  She returned to the United States and  put to work every skill she possessed to change the course of life for this captivating and beautiful little boy she could not leave behind.  Nothing would stop her then — or now.

She raised money, organized his many surgeries and medical care, made arrangements for travel (he and his father had never ridden in a car much less fly on a plane to the U.S.) and that’s just the beginning.

She and her husband Dr. Mark Hyman, who are already parents of four, prepared and opened their home to love, nurture and protect Little Amed during his many months’-long stay and extensive medical care and recovery.

And, Pier has done it all with such gratitude for Little Amed’s parents, marveling that they would trust her with their precious child.

Drs. Mark Hyman and Pier Boutin joyfully playing with Little Amed who loves Superheroes especially Spiderman

These past few months since Little Amed has joined the Boutin-Hyman family , Pier sends regular updates about the little boy who has changed their lives.

When I see her emails in my inbox (and especially after I got to meet the amazing Little Amed last June), I always prepare for happy tears at the latest happenings with this darling child.

Here is an excerpt from Pier’s most recent update:

Little Amed is blossoming. He looks forward to school every morning.  He chooses his clothes for school and helps me prepare his snack every night.  He is so proud to hobble to class pulling his little backpack on wheels. At night, we have to hang his new drawings by his bed.

His teachers have integrated him and welcomed him wholeheartedly.  The children, not only in his class, but in the entire school have followed suit.  For example, Little Amed cannot run and play with a ball like the others, so one day he started to roll in the grass.  The kids apparently thought this was so funny and fun!  They all started rolling in the grass kicking their feet up laughing!

Little Amed is thrilled to attend school.  I wish every child could attend class with the same enthusiasm.

And, here is what I mean about Pier living the life of a Woman on Fire. She is living full out and, in doing so, at every turn the universe has risen to help her:

The kindness and innate humanity always shines through hardships. Today, I mention one of so many people who have come forward to help Little Amed, Mohamed Zabian.

While in the mountains of Morocco, the “I love you” watch my husband gave me years ago fell apart.  Upon my return (to the Berkshires), I immediately took it to Mohamed Zabian Jewelers.

While completing the paperwork, I mentioned I had a little boy with the same name at my house.  I proceeded to explain how I came upon this wonderful little boy with clubfeet.  Mr. Zabian asked to be added to my mailing list.  As I left, I asked for directions to St. Mary’s School.  I thought Little Amed should go to school, play with kids his own age, and learn to speak English.

Mr. Zabian knew St. Mary’s school had already started and there was a waiting list.  Enrollment was complete and the school was expensive.  Despite this, I decided I would plead Little Amed’s case to the school. Perhaps St. Mary’s would let him go there one or two mornings a week.

Mohamed Zabian instructed me to go home and he would call me about the school the next day. Well! He certainly followed through for Little Amed and me. The very next day, Little Amed enrolled at St. Mary’s full time with the tuition paid in full.  Doesn’t it make your heart sing to hear of such generosity!

Dinner at the Hyman-Boutin home is not only fresh from their garden as they promote good health for all but full of love and life with Little Amed in the house! (Photos by Rob Berkley)

You are welcome to read more inspiration and to follow Pier and Little Ahmed’s latest surgeries and adventures by going to these sites:

Facebook page:


Info/donation page:

Here I am with Little Amed…I, too, fell in love with this little angel boy who will undergo further major surgery September 27.  And, after his recovery, he will be able to run and play with all the other children!  

And, last…

A huge and warm welcome to the many of you who’ve joined the SPARK! this week after hearing Janette Barber interview me on her show on Sirius XM or you read the profile that Capital Style Magazine Editor Kristy Eckert wrote about Woman on Fire. We are so happy you are here!

Also, in less than two weeks, 150 women will gather in Columbus, Ohio for Women on Fire Day featuring keynote speaker Janette Barber, the Women on Fire book co-authors, and a panel featuring Debi Lilly, Liz Lessner and Mary Ellen Jones.

The event has sold out.  I can’t wait to see all of you there!

I’d love to hear how the universe has risen to help you when you’ve lived your life “full out.” Please share at the Debbie Phillips blog!

May you always live the life of a Woman on Fire   ~




While climbing up the Atlas Mountain to reach Little Amed’s village, Thor, Ace and I came across a young man, also named Mohamed (20 years old).  I was introduced to him on my first trip to Morocco because the guide thought if I could help Little Amed, I could also fix Mohamed’s severe deformity of the left leg.  His condition called, ‘marked tibial hemimelia with severe popliteal pterygia” in medical terms means, his knee is scared in completely bent position and the lower leg bone (tibia) is absent (essentially never developed).  As a result, Mohamed’s lower leg appendage hangs coiled up from the knee down and he must use a crutch to shamble in the rugged mountains of his village.  This rare deformity occurs when the parents are cousins like his parents.  They only have two children and sadly his younger brother, Mustafa, must endure the same condition on both legs.  He ambles on his hands and knees. He is thirteen years old.  The only treatment is amputations at the knee with prosthetic fitting.

Mohamed invited Thor, Ace, Mohamed (Little Amed’s uncle) and me for tea.   Most first-born males are named Mohamed.  They are differentiated by the family, parent and village name. This can create long and sometime confusing introductions!

The ‘hospitality’ tea preparation is a special ritual reserved for men.  Green tea leaves steep for at least fifteen minutes, then filtered out of the tea out without stirring, then a block (I mean a big block) of sugar added and next the mixture boiled once more, long enough to hydrolyze the sugar giving the tea a very special taste.   Finally mint tealeaves are added but left in for only a few minutes.  The ceremonial decanting of the tea somehow enhances the flavor.  The tea is poured back and forth three times from the teapot with a long curvy spout to the tiny glasses, from about two to three feet high, producing the desired foam. This not only indulges the taste buds but also the eyes! The whole ritual performed by the men, honors special guests.

While savoring our tea, we asked Mohamed why he was home alone and what he did all day.  He said the family was at work either in the fields or the village below.  Unable to walk easily, he just sits at the house and waits for the others to return. He feels guilty he can not work.

Thor and Ace struggled to think of different jobs or activities for Mohamed so he could be a productive member of his family.  Of course, the job had to be sedentary.   They thought Mohamed could help the guides by answering phone and making the schedule.  He could work at the desk at the Kasbah. He could work on a computer in the village below.  He could learn English or French and work with the tourists.  We could send him some books to help him.

Finally Mohamed admitted he could not read, write nor count.  The kids were dumbfounded! After, 45 minutes, they could not come up with any job for someone with so little qualifications, living in these harsh mountains where so few job choices exist.   We left without any idea how to help this young man!

About one week after our return, Thor tapped me on the shoulder bursting with excitement. He had an idea, a real solution.  Mohamed could be a photographer.  We could provide him a digital camera.  We could teach him how to use it when we bring Little Amed back to Morocco.

Being Amazirgh, the mountain people would allow him to take close ups portraits, truly depicting the natural beauty of the local culture and vistas.  Mohamed would email the files of pictures to us (via a computer in the other village or at the Kasbah) and we would make postcards or booklets he could then in turn sell to the tourists.  I thought it was a great idea.  We decided Thor propose this as a class project for his school.

As much as correcting Little Amed‘s club feet helps this little child so the experience enriches Thor and Ace and me. We learned so much during our trip to the Atlas Mountains!  My children realize they are truly fortune and appreciate the opportunities available to them in our country. I just now this undertaking will influence who they will be in the world and how they present themselves.

Thank you for supporting me in many ways on this journey!


Important Note:  Little Amed’s big surgery is set for September 27th, 2011(more news to come)

P.S. See the Facebook website for Little Amed for updated videos  (2 new ones – pouring tea and Little Amed enjoying a bath for the first time)
Visit to make a donation, see button at the bottom.

(Again thank you for the frequent flyers miles to make this return trip for Little Amed possible)
Guide Mohamed pouring Ritual Tea

Thor with Little Amed, his cousin Mohamed and another cousin in Morocco

Mohamed with Tibial hemimelia, Ace and Thor

Walking towards Little Amed’s vilage

Mustafa and Mohamed (tibial hemimelia)


Amed standing on his purple casts

Ace and Amed with shades

Amed on a skateboard

Little Amed may be casted from the toes to the groin but this does not slow him down.  He crawls both forward and backward. He moves very quickly, it is actually so fun to watch.

Dr. Drvaric made the last two sets of casts so they would cover the little toes.  This way, with much effort and practice, Little Amed actually started walking.  He started grabbing the furniture to hold his balance and eventually surprised me in the kitchen standing while holding the cat in his hands.  Little Amed was so proud; he had to show everyone who came in the house.  I videotaped the event and will try to upload this to the website Rachel created.

Little Amed’s feet are progressing.  This latest set of casts has the feet in external rotation.  This means the feet are now pointing out rather than backwards.  Of course, the feet are still pointing down, like a ballerina. Little Amed is a bit disappointed as it is much more difficult to walk with the toes pointing out!!

Once the feet are turned out about 70 degrees, the surgery will be performed.  The surgery involves lengthening the Achilles tendons and transposing the anterior tibialis tendons.  Essentially it means lengthening the tight tendons and moving the ones on the inside to the outside of the feet.  By both stretching the soft tissues and lengthening/moving the deforming forces, the chance of recurrence is greatly minimized.

Little Amed still speaks Amazigh with his family on Skype however he now mostly communicates in English and signs with us at home.  He knows so much and is so smart. In full sentences, he tells me every morning he is hungry and asks for his favorite foods: eggs and bananas.  He then taps his tummy and says “yummy”.

Little Amed still speaks Amazigh with his family on Skype however he now mostly communicates in English and signs with us at home.  He knows so much and is so smart. In full sentences, he tells me every morning he is hungry and asks for his favorite foods: eggs and bananas.  He then taps his tummy and says “yummy”.

Little Amed Also loves to start his day with a bath/shampoo at the sink followed by brushing his teeth.  He is so proud of himself.  We also have a routine in the morning where he asks about everyone in the house. “Where’s Ace?”, “Where’s Misha?”, “Where’s Rachel?” “Where’s Thor?”, “Where’s Mark?”, “Where’s Daffnee?”,  and “Is Rachid Sleeping?”. He likes to know what everyone is up to!  He is so aware and appreciative of all the family members.  I think we often take each for granted in our hurry to accomplish too much.  He likes to know what everyone is up to!  He is so aware and appreciative of all the family members.  I think we often take each for granted in our hurry to accomplish too much.

I like to take this time to recognize and acknowledge everyone.  I am reading The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel.  In this book about the ancient civilizations, she describes the extensive greetings with every encounter.  It seems so respectful and appreciative.   Little Amed seems to do this naturally.

The irony is that I am teaching English to Little Amed, while his language, Amazigh, was the very first language known. The oldest documents of language expression found in North Africa are Berber words. These are hieroglyphs and a set of vocatives called “Ti-finar” (Tifinagh). This became the basis for the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is also believed that these first geometric signs which are the Tifinagh, served as prototypes in the ulterior formation of the coming alphabets (Egeens, Akkadians, Sumerians, Phoenicians and Greeks).   This little boy is somehow teaching me a lot!

I celebrated my 50th birthday last weekend with many dear friends and family.  Many came from far away and had yet to meet Little Amed.  None were surprised I decided to help him.  He has such an engaging personality.  I have met many children with deformities over the years in my travels to remote areas however this child totally captivated me. …And now, everyone else in my circle.  He was such a trooper during the party and even joined the kids and bounced on the trampoline.

Until, the next time….



Removing casts is a scary experience for anyone let alone a little four-year old boy who does not understand the language. The great team at Shriners Hospital did their utmost to reassure a very scared little boy. Sarah Durgin, the physician’s assistant, gently removed the casts with the scary, oscillating and very loud saw. Jackie Ingram, the child specialist, soothed Little Amed’s fear by placing headphones over his ears and entertaining him with 2 little figurines. Marisol, the nurse, was there to make sure all this went smoothly.

Leaving the hospital with Little Amed in leg casts all the way to his groin seemed to be a bigger handicap than the original severe clubfeet. We need not have worried. Just because he can’t walk doesn’t mean he can’t get around. With his second set of casts, he quickly learned to scoot around, go up and down stairs and climb onto the couch. He told the doctor he wanted red casts this time. He now knows his numbers and colors. He is so smart!

I will upload a video of Little Amed crawling with his casts when he first got them. You can see it at

I would like to tell you about Jody Hall. She is the patient coordinator at Shriners Hospital. She is the first person I contacted at Shriners to find help for Little Amed. Jody informed me about the moratorium on acceptance for foreign children at the moment. She however persevered on our behalf. I sent her some pictures and much information which she presented to the hospital administration. She went out of her way to call me, follow up and what me through the steps to be successful. After lots of hard work and persistence on her part, Little Amed was approved. Thank you Joday! I include a picture of Jody with Amed in this update.

Amed likes to put on his shirt by himself (Superman of course) but can’t put his pants over the casts. He loves Thor and Ace and will be wherever they are. When he is afraid he will go to bed in Ace’s room (it is special – the cat Gwen likes to sleep there too.) Right now he just crawled into the dog Kobe’s bed and is snuggling down to nap with Kobe.

I was worried he would have trouble with the change of diet, but he eats everything we do and is especially fond of eggs and aroz. Aroz is rice in Spanish. Spain, just across the Strait of Gilbratar, has had a great influence on Morocco over the centuries. The reverse is also true.

There are many Spanish words in the Berber language. He calls me Doctora like his parents do, but sometimes copies Thor and Ace who call me Mom. I want Amed to stay closely connected with his mother, Aisha; father, Rachid; and sister, Somaya. One of Rachid’s seventeen siblings has a computer down in a lower village. We have therefore started to Skype. The picture is very poor and the sound delayed, however the effect is wonderful! Amed has a great loving family. I look forward to visiting with them in the future.

We took him to an event at Flying Deer where Mark received an award and gave a talk about the effects of the environment on our health. When Little Amed was tired he asked to sit in his wheelchair and promptly fell asleep. The picture is so cute; I had to share with you.

Thank you for being part of this journey with me,


To donate, please go to the bottom of the following page

Jody with Amed and Rachid

Amed asleep in wheelchair

Pier washing Amed’s feet


Today, I had an appointment so I asked Judy (the woman who used to babysit Thor and Ace) to look after Amed for the morning.  This did not turn out well.

Somehow, I learned to communicate with Amed, not so much in words, but in expressions, signals and just intuition! Judy and Amed were not able to establish this connection/communal language.

Shortly after I left the house, Little Amed became scared or frustrated.   Because he was not able to make himself understood, he started to yell, scream and to quote Judy “acting like the utmost brat“.  Poor Judy –Poor Amed.

Little Amed feels safe with me.  I seem to understand most of his needs and communication.I must say, I have never seen this behavior he exhibited with Judy.  Little Amed is such a wonderful smart animated child!

I think I learned a sixth sense of communication at age of 13 when I moved from a small town in Quebec to Fort Lauderdale.  At the time, I thought it was the worst calamity possible. I realize today it was a great gift. My persona/character has been enhanced with this experience even though it was hard at the time.

In Quebec, we lived in a small French-speaking town, St Jean-sur-Richelieu/L’Acadie.  The French separatist movement was at its peak.  I spoke only French.   I grew up in totally white, catholic environment.  Overnight I had to integrate with different races, religions, cultures and speak a different language.  To make life easier at school, my mother enrolled me in Latin, Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics my first year of high school.  She believed these courses would not require as much English as say History or English Literature.  I survived and eventually thrived learning many subtle ways of communicating with few words and many facial expressions.

I now fully appreciated this gift. I travelled to South America for three months after my residency in orthopaedic surgery.  Without ever having taken a class of Spanish, I left with my backpack and somehow managed communicate with the people of South America and have a great experience.

I didn’t think of this again, until Mohamed came to live with us.  Surprising how life’s challenges enrich us. Life with Amed is a very special journey for both, him and our family.

Ahmed Joins the Family

It has been a whirlwind week. Rachid left on Saturday.  Amed proved he has adjusted to his new surroundings with aplomb. I expected he would be very uneasy at bedtime.   Mark and I considered putting Amed’s bed in our room for the first few nights. We worried he would really miss his Dad.  We need not have been concerned. When time for bed rolled around, Amed pointed to his bed, called our dog Kobe, went to bed and promptly fell asleep. He woke the next morning at seven.

When I first saw little Amed, I thought it was cute that he was missing his front teeth.  I thought about this a bit longer and realized kids are not supposed to loose their baby front teeth at age four. ?!?!?    I took him to visit with Dr. Yarmosky, our children’s dentist and learned Little Amed’s teeth rotted as their emerged from his gums due to the poor sugar filled diet.
The Morrocan diet now substantially of corn products subsidized by the American government has replaced a diet made up of vitamin rich locally grown food.

The remnants of Little Amed’s four front teeth float in pus filled gums. They will be removed today.  Poor kid! Dr. Yarmosky will fill and repair the larger molar teeth.  Amed’s father Rachid cried (of happiness) when I took Amed to the dentist.  He warned him to stop eating sugar. Of course, this won’t be a very big problem at our home!

We expect once the infection is treated, Amed will start growing and soon reach the size of an average healthy four-year old.  Presently he weighs 25 pounds and wears a size two.
Meanwhile he seems to be enjoying himself. We have a stroller and are able to set it up so he can travel in it with legs in casts outstretched. Every day I marvel at the stamina and resilience of this little boy. He is living with a strange family, not seeing his mother, father or siblings.  He visits doctors and dentists who do strange things that hurt him. Yet he never complains, seldom cries, smiles a lot and wins our hearts.

We are incurring many unexpected costs and running a little short of funds.  We would like to reassure you all the money goes directly to his care.  It does not pay for his food, lodging, or specials outings.

For those who have donated in one-way or another: thank you so much! If you can help or know someone who would like to help, please go tohttp//–mo-charity and go to the bottom of the page to find the “donate” button.  Spencer  who developed the web page, will also upload the updates I have sent over the past few months.  You will be able to view these updates or send them to a friend.


Little Mo and his father arrive this Saturday.   How scary this must be for them. They have never crossed an international border or been on a plane.  Mohammed’s parents must be wondering what they have got themselves and their son into.  They have put their trust in complete strangers. They are acting on blind faith.  How they must want to see their son walk. What extra ordinary faith they have. A tall blonde American doctor stops in their remote village, tells them their little boy can be made to walk, and convinces them to journey to America.

My daughter Ace and will meet them at the airport in New York City.
We will greet them with picture cards in hand.  I must admit I am nervous.  Not only is there a significant language barrier but there are also major cultural differences, especially our relaxed and open advertisements.

For the 3-hour ride to the Berkshires, I thought I would put a movie in the car DVD player. They have never seen a television. I’m sure one in a car will astound them. I have the musical Barney and a Tom and Jerry DVD.

It is a long ride and they may relax a little watching the antics of Tom and Jerry.

I thought of replacing the seat on our old swing set, but Little Mo will not be able to do the normal fun things a typical four year old child would do: he will be in casts up his groin.  The hammock might be better as both he and his father can use it together.

Arlene McLearen delivered not only a bed, a car seat, a booster chair but also a slew of wonderful toys.  I have attached a photo of her wonderful gifts.  I think we should nominate her Fairy Godmother! Thank you so much Arlene!

I want to thank Spencer Smith a writer/editor and computer wise man.   He opened a new email address, made a webpage and organized the PayPal account facilitate our efforts for Little Mo.  I called him for some advice and suddenly; the Little Mo foundation was created.  Please visit the page he made at Spencer took time out of his overloaded schedule to do this at no charge.  His wife, Maria, was the first one to make a donation to the fund.   Thank you!!

As soon as possible I will post pictures of their arrival.   In the next note I will let you know how they are coping.