The bus carrying Daniel Wachira’s Christmas present left a Midtown Manhattan hotel on Thursday afternoon.
The bus traveled north to Harlem, to a charity event called the Miracle on 138th Street. Outside Abyssinian Baptist Church, an estimated 10,000 people received boxes of food, personal-care items and toys, some distributed by members of the Knicks and the Los Angles Lakers.
While Daniel, 5, waited for his gift to arrive, he climbed onto the shoulders of Larry Jones, the founder and president of Feed the Children, a charity based in Oklahoma City that helped make the giveaway possible. The perch gave Daniel, who is 44 inches tall, a better view of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. But as he watched thousands of others receive their gifts, Daniel wondered when his would arrive.
“Where’s Kobe?” he said. “I want Kobe.”
Daniel was perhaps the biggest miracle on West 138th Street.
Born about Aug. 30, 2001, in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, he was a few days old when he was abandoned in a heap of trash, then attacked by a pack of wild dogs.
A woman who heard Daniel’s cries chased the dogs, but the left side of Daniel’s face had been mauled. His left ear and left big toe were missing, and he was bleeding as he was rushed to a hospital.
“Daniel was surely seconds away from death,” Jones said. “If that woman had not heard his cries, he wouldn’t be here today.”
The baby was named by hospital nurses after the biblical Daniel, who survived being thrown into a den of lions by King Darius. Wachira is a common surname in Nairobi.
In May 2002, Daniel was transferred to the Frances Jones Abandoned Baby Center, a project of Feed the Children. Frances Jones, Larry’s wife, began taking a personal interest in Daniel.
“The first time I saw him, he captured my heart,” she said. “I fell in love with him.”
In March, the Joneses became Daniel’s legal guardians and brought him to the United States in the hope of finding doctors who could repair his injuries.
“I think my wife wrote to every plastic surgeon in America,” Jones said.
While they searched, Daniel began falling in love with his new home and playing sports. He developed a particular fondness for basketball, and one player captured his own heart.
“Kobe, Kobe,” Larry Jones said Daniel chanted whenever Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers appeared on television. “I love Kobe.”
Eventually, the Joneses found two Houston surgeons, Sean Boutros and Michael Miller, who volunteered to operate on Daniel for free. Their first operation on Daniel took place on June 1, a second on Sept 1.
“We still have a long way to go,” Frances Jones said. “Maybe 10 more years of surgeries.”
She then took Daniel by the hand and into the church. They waited in a small, quiet room near a stained glass window that depicted Mary holding the infant Jesus. A few minutes later, someone knocked. Daniel opened the door and saw his miracle.
“Kobe!” he shouted, leaping into Bryant’s arms.
Bryant said: “How are you, Daniel? It’s nice to meet you.”
Daniel said: “Hey, Kobe, you’re tall.”
Bryant, still holding Daniel, told him: “Everyone thinks I’m 6 feet 7 inches tall. But just between you and me, I’m really 6-4.”
“Ohh, Kobe,” Daniel said. “I’m telling.”
As they chatted for 10 more minutes, Bryant showed Daniel how to dribble a basketball. When it was time to leave, they gave each other a high-five and a hug.
“Goodbye, Kobe,” Daniel said. “I’ll see you on TV.”
“Bye-bye, Daniel,” Bryant said. “You’re my man.”
Everyone left the room except Bryant, who took a moment to exhale.
“You know, I have two healthy daughters, one is 3 and the other is 7 months old,” he said, squinting through misty eyes. “I look at a boy like Daniel, who truly is a miracle baby, and I thank God that I’m in a position to help make his world a little brighter. But he made my world a little brighter, too. If I was his Christmas present today, than he was mine.”