HIGH POINT — A process that began more than a year ago with a city plan to seize a downtown medical office for a parking facility ended last week.
The city bought the Davis & Goldberg Orthodontics office next to Truist Point stadium at 315 N. Elm St. for $2.3 million. The city and developer Elliott Sidewalk Communities plan to use the property and adjacent land for a new building that will include parking, retail and possibly residential or hotel uses.
Last year, after negotiations to buy the orthodontics office broke down, the City Council authorized a plan that would have enabled the city to take the property by eminent domain, on the grounds that it was needed for downtown parking.
Governments can take private land for a public purpose, as long as they provide the owner just compensation, which the city initially deemed to be $1,010,000.
Condemnation was removed as an option after the city, the developer and the property owner reached an agreement for Elliott Sidewalk Communities to buy the property for $2.3 million and for the city subsequently to purchase it from the developer for this amount.
The half-acre property at the corner of N. Elm Street and Gatewood Avenue has a Guilford County tax value of $818,500.
The orthodontics practice will continue to operate there under an 18-month lease with the city, with an option to extend the agreement an additional six months, said Assistant City Manager Greg Ferguson.
The city is not charging the tenant rent because the existing lease the city assumed as part of the purchase did not require the office to pay a monthly amount, he said.
The city and Elliott Sidewalk Communities are still exploring options for whether to build a parking deck as a separate structure next to a mixed-use building or to develop a single building with parking on the bottom floor and the other uses above it, he said.
Also last week, Elliott Sidewalk Communities completed its purchase from the city of two parcels next to the orthodontics office for $708,197 and $672,187.
One of them was 275 N. Elm St., where the developer has a mixed-use building under construction that will include a food hall and office space outside the stadium’s main entrance.
“The food hall is moving along and they are on a time frame for completing it next summer,” Ferguson said. “So that’s important for the city to see that resume and get back underway.”
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They call her Boun Lod.
Her given name is Vilayvanh Phanhvanh, which could explain why everybody calls her Boun Lod (pronounced “boon-loud”), or simply Boun.
That could be the reason, but it’s not the only reason, nor even the best one.
The best reason is this:
Seventeen years ago, when she was scarcely 2 weeks old in her native Laos, Boun survived a horrific fire as she lay sleeping in her crib. Scalding flames melted the tender skin all over her body, and she inhaled so much of the thick, black smoke that when she cried, no sound came out.
“The doctors said I was going to die,” Boun says softly.
Then they inexplicably amputated both of her arms, without her parents’ permission. To this day, it’s not clear why they did that — only that they did, such that her arms end right about where her elbows should be.
Scars remain, too, visible evidence of the flames that engulfed her until the fire finally was extinguished.
What you don’t see right away are Boun’s emotional scars, but they are there, too, just beneath the surface of her patched-up skin. They, too, become tender as the soft-spoken teenager shares her story.
But this is not simply the story of a now-17-year-old girl whose life was consumed, or even defined, by a tragic fire. It’s the story of a girl who is determined to put that fire behind her as she clings to something she never dreamed she could possess — hope.
And therein lies the best reason to call this young woman Boun Lod. In her homeland, it was the nickname given to her by a nurse as she left the hospital as a 5-week-old infant — scarred and without arms, but very much alive.
“Boun Lod,” the nurse said.
Translation? “Miracle survivor,” or simply “miracle.”
The story of how Boun ended up in High Point, some 8,600 miles from her home — and from her parents — is complicated, but it’s a journey that has changed her life for the better.
The journey began, of course, the day of the fire. As she always did, Boun’s mother had lit a candle above her newborn daughter’s crib, as part of a traditional religious ritual. She had always blown the candle out, but this time she forgot, distracted by a crying child elsewhere in the house. As the candle slowly melted, the hot wax dripped into the crib and ignited the fire.
Boun’s grandmother was the first to see the smoke billowing into the kitchen, and she screamed for Boun’s mother, who came running.
“They opened the door, and the whole room was filled with smoke,” Boun says. “My mom went inside and tried to find me, and she saw a flame on my body. She slapped the flame out with her bare hand and burned her hand.”
Family members rushed Boun to the hospital, where doctors gave her only a 3% chance of survival. They amputated her arms, much to her parents’ shock and anguish. They did almost nothing to treat Boun’s severe burns.
For three weeks, the burned baby remained at the hospital as the doctors essentially waited for her to die, until finally her father had seen enough.
“If my daughter’s going to die, we’ll have her die at home,” he insisted as he picked up his baby girl and stormed out of the hospital. As he and Boun’s mother were leaving, a nurse stopped them and said, “If your daughter lives, name her Boun Lod — she is a miracle.”
At home, with a personal nurse caring for her, Boun showed signs of improvement. And when a relative in France sent the family some powerful medicines to help the burns heal, it became obvious Boun was going to survive.
As she grew older, though, and children in Boun’s community saw how different she looked, you can imagine how they treated her.
“I was bullied a lot,” Boun says. “No one accepted me. Every time I tried to make friends, the other kids would run away from me. They would say, ‘Oh, she’s a monster! Look at her — she’s so ugly!’ Even adults would look at me and then tell their kids, ‘Don’t go near her — you might catch a disease!’ Or they would say, ‘She’ll eat you alive!’ No one saw me as a human being.”
Even the schools would not admit her.
“People in my country see me as a useless person,” Boun explains. “They said I would become a beggar anyway, so they didn’t let me go to school.”
Although Boun doesn’t say so, those wounds of rejection probably hurt more than her physical scars. By age 10, she stopped leaving the house altogether, except on rare occasions.
“If I did go out, I would try to hide my scars,” Boun says. “I would wear long sleeves and long pants, even though it was 100 degrees outside.”
Meanwhile, a male family member living in the same house as Boun began to abuse her physically, sexually and emotionally — an experience that prevents her from trusting men to this day, she says. He even threatened to kill her if she told her parents.
“It was horrible,” Boun says, her voice quivering with emotion. “I wasn’t happy at all. Life basically just sucked.”
Fortunately for Boun, she crossed paths with a number of angels who helped her along the way.
The first was a Canadian tourist visiting Laos when Boun was young. The man met Boun’s family, and when he learned they didn’t have the money to provide the kind of medical treatment she needed, he offered to help. The next thing Boun knew, she was on her way to the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati, for surgery and other treatment for her burns.
For several years, Boun went back and forth, receiving additional treatment in the U.S. and then returning to Laos. At age 13, though, she made a difficult decision — she asked her parents to surrender custody so she could enter the foster-care system in the U.S. She was miserable living in Laos, where she was an outcast, she told them, and she feared more suffering from her abusive family member.
“I’m not going back home, no matter what,” Boun told her parents. “I would rather kill myself, and I will.”
Her parents balked, of course, but eventually agreed it might be in Boun’s best interest. Her mom signed the paperwork, and Boun entered foster care.
After the first two families she lived with didn’t work out, Boun’s mother contacted a couple here in High Point, Chansamone and Phayvanh Sipasert, who are relatives on Boun’s father’s side of the family. The couple agreed to take Boun in, and she lives with them still.
During her time here, Boun has continued receiving medical treatments and will do so until she’s 21. She’s had surgery on her neck, her face, around her eyes, on her scalp.
In the meantime, she has met more angels in High Point. One of them is Jordan Washburn, a tireless supporter of the Victory Junction Gang Camp and a man whose heart for children knows no bounds. When he learned about Boun, he made a few calls and arranged for her to attend Victory Junction for a week of camp last year. She had the time of her life.
Then Washburn decided to help Boun get a prosthetic arm, to the tune of about $15,000.
“I just made up my mind I was going to do this,” he says, adding that a team of helpers worked with him to make it happen. “Boun has been through a lot, and she deserves any help we can give her. She’s really appreciative of anything people do for her.”
Mind you, Boun was coping well without her prosthetic arm, having learned to use her feet from the time she was a baby and picked up a spoon without anybody teaching her.
“I taught myself how to write, how to eat, how to shower, how to dress, how to cook, how to type on the computer and on my phone,” Boun says. “Everything you do with your hands, I do with my feet.”
The prosthetic arm, though, helps her reach and grab things she might not be able to reach otherwise. And as she ages and becomes less agile, Washburn points out, her feet won’t serve her quite as well as they do today.
Now, Washburn is raising money for Boun’s college education. After graduating from high school, she wants to attend college and become a licensed therapist, so she can help others who may be experiencing problems similar to what she has gone through.
“I just want to help them any way I can,” she says.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Boun has begun to thrive since coming to High Point.
Not only is she enrolled in schools here, she has been taking honors classes and making good grades. Now a junior at High Point Central High School, where she also plays on the soccer team, Boun is just thrilled to be able to get an education, something her own country denied her.
Even more importantly, Boun has found acceptance here.
“People still stare at me, and that’s always going to happen, because I know I’m different from other people,” she says.
“But the difference is that people back home stare at me and make fun of me. People here talk to me and welcome me. I remember the first time it happened when I was in middle school, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I actually had someone talk to me.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Boun’s peers, her closest friends, say she’s just like any other teenager.
“Boun is one of the most kind, caring, humble and aware people I know,” says Stuart Nunn, who met Boun at Central and remains close with her, even though he’s now a student at N.C. State University.
“I don’t really view her as a disabled person, because she never lets any physical boundaries get in her way from living her life. I just see her as a regular human being, as all people should.”
Another close friend, Reilly Williams, says she sees Boun almost like a little sister. They played on the soccer team at Central, where Reilly developed an appreciation for Boun’s determination.
“I was so impressed with her work ethic,” Reilly says. “She had to work harder than anyone on the field, but she never once complained about it. She’s just a really admirable person, and she really teaches you to never take anything for granted. After everything she’s been through, she always finds a reason to keep going and a reason to be truly happy.”
That’s an astonishing turnaround for a teenager who once said her life “basically just sucked.”
Yet here she is, living apart from her parents at age 17, making her way in a foreign land sharply divided by politics, race and religion, not to mention crippled by a controversial virus that half the country fears and the other half scoff at. And what has she found here? Love, friendship and acceptance.
Talk about a miracle.
“I’m so much happier now,” Boun acknowledges. “I never had friends in my life before I came here, but now I get to experience what love is. I get to experience what friendship is. I get to experience what it’s like to be cared for and to be loved. It’s a good feeling.”
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HIGH POINT — The pastor and parishioners of New Beginnings Full Gospel Ministries have a Christmas message for the thieves who broke into the church this week and stole donated food: We forgive you.
Late Monday night, the alarms sounded at the east High Point church on Fourth Street. Longtime church member and former High Point Police Department officer Napoleon Hardison, alerted by the alarm system, arrived to find plexiglass windows on the southside of the building had been removed, and his wife, Sharon Hardison, called 911 to contact police.
Hardison acknowledged that his first reaction when he arrived at the church was anger that someone would break into a sanctuary during the holiest of times. But when he realized the thieves had taken canned food valued at $20 in the police report, Hardison softened his response.
“At first all kinds of bad thoughts came through my mind,” Hardison told The High Point Enterprise. “Then I thought about it — you have to forgive that person. At the end of the day, you have to live within yourself.”
The food that was taken was donated for the church food pantry that serves people in need throughout the year. The church gives out about 100 boxes of food a month and has run the pantry for many years, the Hardisons said.
The thieves took food from the room in the church where donations are mainly stored.
The Rev. Michael Ellerbe, pastor of New Beginnings Full Gospel Ministries, said the break-in was the first of the building since the church established itself more than 25 years ago, though people have broken into the church van before.
Ellerbe told The Enterprise he thinks the thieves were startled by the alarm and grabbed whatever they could before quickly fleeing. But taking cans of food does reflect a level of desperation.
The pastor said he doesn’t harbor any ill-will toward whoever broke into the sanctuary as the church prepares to celebrate Christmas.
“Not one bit,” Ellerbe said. “We will continue as a church doing what we are doing. And we pray for them.”
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