MISSOULA, Mont. — There are moments in life when so many good things unfold to make something wonderful happen that it seems as if more than serendipity is at work.

The Channer family of Missoula and Denver believe that, and so does Emmanuel Nsubuga, a teenager from an orphanage in Uganda.

"I know God loves me and he is using the Channers to love me," 18-year-old Nsubuga said while recovering from double hip replacement surgery at Community Medical Center earlie this month. "I can see his love."

For certain, how and why the lives of Nsubuga and the Channers came together — despite the thousands of miles and different cultures that separate them — is a story that couldn't be scripted by even the most imaginative Hollywood screenwriters.

Ever since he was a little boy, visitors to the various orphanages where Nsubuga lived made promises to help him get hip surgery so he could walk and play pain-free like other children.

Yet through the years, none of those promises came through until an American teenager from Colorado came to visit and work at the orphanage last summer and learned of Nsubuga's critical need.

Inspired by the boy's courage and kindness, Matthan Gruzinski called his uncle Mark Channer, a Missoula orthopedic surgeon who was born in Nigeria when his parents served as medical missionaries there, has long ties to Africa and who frequently donates his own surgical skills to third-world patients.

Last week, because of Gruzinski's compassion and Channer's connections, Nsubuga's dream came true.

"I'm really proud of my nephew for going out on a limb and thinking big," Channer said. "And it's really neat for Emmanuel and Matthan to see this plan come together."

Life has not been easy for Nsubuga. His father died when he was an infant, and his mother, who has HIV, put him in the care of an orphanage at the age of 4.

In his short life, Nsubuga has lived in five different orphanages, and currently lives at the Musana Children's Home, where he met Gruzinski. With each passing year, the pain in his hips has become more intense, until he cannot walk long distances or stand up for extended lengths at a time.

X-rays told Channer that Nsubuga has long suffered from Legg-Calve Perthes Disease, which typically occurs in children between the ages of 4 and 8 when blood supply is interrupted to the hip joint.

If caught early enough, it can be treated without surgery — as are 90 percent of the cases in the United States, Channer said.

The X-rays also showed Nsubuga had severely deformed hip joints, and if he did not get a new set of hips, the teenager's future would be greatly compromised.

"Life can be particularly challenging for people with disabilities, especially in a Third World country," said Channer. "Without the surgery, Emmanuel would have had a hard time finding work."

In Uganda, a country that still reels from the ripple effects of Idi Amin's reign of terror, which produced massive human rights violations, social disintegration and economic decline in the 1970s, the life expectancy for even healthy citizens is 52 years.

It is a country that has in the past 50 years suffered at the hands of vicious rebel groups that have killed tens of thousands of people, abducted countless thousands of children and young women to serve as soldiers, slaves and prostitutes, and displaced millions of Ugandan residents, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Having been born and raised in Africa, Channer is keenly aware of what happens to the weakest of the poorest residents of third world countries.

He is therefore motivated to help change the outcome, one person at a time through his own medical missionary organization, Joints in Motion.

In this instance, Community Medical Center helped Channer perform the surgery by donating a surgery room, staff and many supplies to help Nsubuga, and Zimmer Orthopedic donated the teen's new artificial joints.

Such generosity is not unusual for CMC, said Steve Carlson, hospital president.

"Providing community benefit is an important part of our mission," Carlson explained. "Last year, Community contributed over $17 million in community benefit locally and we are honored to have extended our charity mission on a limited, international basis as well."

Days after Nsubuga's Missoula surgery, Channer was optimistic his patient would have a bright future.

"So far, his prognosis is good and he should ultimately be able to walk normally without limping and without pain," Channer said. "Hopefully he can go on to get further education, get a job, have a family and have a normal life."

Humble about the significant role he has in Nsubuga's story, 17-year-old Gruzinski said he didn't fully consider the enormity of trying to help his new friend.

But once he started talking with his own family, Gruzinski never intended to give up on the idea to get Nsubuga the surgery he so desperately needed.

"I told Emma I would do what I could and that I would talk with my uncle, and I had a lot of hope from the beginning," Gruzinski said. "I took a while, but Mark called me back a few months after we first talked and said he could do the surgery and that a lot of people in Missoula agreed to make it happen.

"The hardest part in all of this was that Emma didn't have a birth certificate or a passport or a visa and that took the longest to figure out, but it did work out."

Once back home in Denver, Gruzinski kept in touch with Nsubuga through Facebook, and stayed motivated by thinking about what life is like for the average person in Iganga, the city where he lived and worked for three weeks last summer.

There, life has little in common with American life, Gruzinski said. Most people live in mud shacks, roads are made of dirt, there is little access to electricity and families live in shacks no bigger than 6-by-10 feet. When it rains everything becomes muddy, including the floor of the shacks, where people sleep without the comfort of a raised bed or cot.

"Life in the orphanage looks good in comparison," Gruzinski said. "Where Emma lives there are bunkbeds, the floors are made of concrete, and everyone eats three meals a day."

Emma's life, so different than his own, is shocking, Gruzinski said. But Emma's undaunted cheerful spirit is inspiring.

"He's an amazing kid," Gruzinski said. "I really look up to him. He's so happy yet has nothing and he has lived with so much pain."

Eyes bright with joy, Nsubuga said he is now gladly enduring the pain that comes from learning how to walk again and breaking in a new set of hips.

Each day that passes, he gets more and more mobility with less pain.

With each step, Nsubuga said, he heads toward a future filled with promise.

"I'm excited to do everything," Nsubuga said. "I'm excited to walk without any pain, I am excited to be a strong boy like I used to be.

"I want to dance to your hip-hop."

Full recovery will take several weeks and intensive rehabilitation therapy.

Nsubuga's new American family will be at his side through it all.

Jessie Channer, mother to Nsubuga's surgeon and Gruzinski's grandmother, is a retired pediatric nurse and will take care of the teen at her Missoula home until her son says Nsubuga is strong enough to begin the journey back to Uganda.

Before taking the international voyage, Gruzinski and his family will come collect Nsubuga and take him to Denver so they can be together for several weeks before they part.

The experience has changed all of their lives for the better, the two teens said.

Of Nsubuga, Gruzinski said: "He's a family member now. He's a brother."

Of Matthan, Nsubuga said: "I thank God for him and for his family. I know God has many ways to love — and I feel so good."

Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com