For someone who was born with debilitating and potentially fatal defects in a Siberian village, immediately abandoned by his parents and tormented incidentally or intentionally at Russian orphanages, hospitals and youth camps, Val Silcock is quite a young man.
Still short of 21, the on-again, off-again Santa Rosa Junior College student supports himself by working as the techno whiz for a Guerneville-based health agency. He's a marvel to his boss, Mary Szecsey, director of West County Health Centers.
"Given the challenges he's had in his life, you just go, 'Wow,' " Szecsey said. "He's one of the nicest, gentlest, most competent young people that I know."
Silcock took some time off recently to return to Moscow to speak and offer thanks at a conference of the Russian medical charity that helped save him.
"I have been spoiled with the love of the people that have given me so much," the slender and thoughtful survivor of more than a dozen reconstructive and emergency surgeries told the assembly. "Without these people's care for me, God knows where I would be now."
Fact is, he's quite certain that he would be dead or severely disabled had no one troubled themselves when his parents beheld his physical defects upon his birth in December of 1991 outside the city of Khabarovsk.
Silcock's bladder was outside his body, an anomaly that's called bladder exstrophy and that occurs in one in 30,000 to 50,000 births. The newborn had other problems as well, including a malformation of his hips that spread his legs far apart and in time would have crippled him.
He said his parents did give him a name: Valera Nicolayevich Asheulov. (He would take on the surname Silcock later, in America.) He grew up with a degree of appreciation that "Valera" means strong and healthy, which he takes as a sign his parents provided him with the only thing they could, a wish for his survival.
He would carry resentment for his birth parents until he realized it was toxic to him. "After a while, I just forgave them internally," he said.
His first five years of life were a blur of hospital rooms and temporary living situations. Child health advocates saw that his medical needs exceeded the capability of hospitals in Khabarovsk and sent him by train to Moscow -- a distance of more than 5,000 miles.
Arriving in Russia's vast capital feeling miserable, the beleaguered lad was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was placed in isolation at a hospital and kept there for about six months.
"That was one of the worst times of my life," he said.
Finally free of TB, he came to the attention of a church-based charity in Moscow that provides medical care to children with life-threatening conditions.
He was 6 when he underwent his first major urological surgery to correct the bladder exstrophy. His recovery required that he be in a house with someone to look after him, so a couple agreed to take him into their home as a foster child.
Having spent his life to that point in hospitals and children's homes, he said, "I didn't even know how to sit at a table normally."
Silcock told the crowd of about 300 at the charity conference in Moscow weeks ago, "The family embraced me with love that I hadn't received from anyone, ever. They let me play on the computer, made food, took me for walks, told me positive things about myself and treated me like I had never been treated."