When Paul Hanson read a story in the Detroit Lakes Newspapers about a little local girl who was born with a congenital ear deformity called microtia, a lot of emotions came rushing in.
"That's exactly what I had," said Hanson, who now lives in Union Central Senior Living in Detroit Lakes.
Seven-year-old Kristina Heinlein captured Hanson's heart after he read about how she had written a book about her numerous surgeries. It's a book for kids - a way to help them feel less afraid about going to the hospital.
Hanson and Kristina met for the first time recently, during which time he presented his new little friend with a gift of $200, which she is using to print more of her books.
According to Hanson, he wanted to give something to Kristina to help her make a difference for other children.
"For her to write a book, and then want to donate the money from that book to the Children's Hospital - that's pretty unique," said Hanson. "You don't see that very often."
Hanson and Kristina were born with the same condition, same ear. What differs though is the time frame, and for them, timing made all the difference in the world.
Hanson went through his childhood during an era when the science to help a deformity wasn't there, and people's acceptance of differences wasn't either.
"Freak," said Hanson. "That's the word they would use for me. Reading that article, it really brought back a lot of the pain I had to endure from people because I only had a little nub there instead of an ear."
Hanson says his life often revolved around trying to hide his ear, whether it be walking with his right ear close to the wall or waiting until the barber shop was almost closed so that there wouldn't be anybody else in there to see his deformity.
"I would always sit on the right side of the bus by the window so that that only my left ear was exposed - I devised all kinds of things," said Hanson. "My mom always made me wear my hair long to cover it up, and I hated it," he said. "I wanted a hiney like the other boys."
Hanson says he remembers the feeling of being stared at, and even adults would sometimes say or do hurtful things.
"I remember I was in a grocery store, and this neighbor man who was about 55 years old, grabbed me by my shoulder and lifted up my hair to expose my ear to the guy he was with and commented, 'Isn't that something? I've never seen anything like that before', and you can imagine how I felt."
Hanson can still remember all too well the pain and ridicule he faced; it was just how things were then.
Today however, he hands his check over to a little girl who he admires - a strong-willed, big-hearted little girl who doesn't have to face the same emotional pain Hanson did. Her surgeries have been what her mom, Stacey, calls "amazing," and although the microtia has taken up her time, it doesn't touch her sparkly attitude.
And while Hanson says reading Kristina's story made him wishful that things could have been the same for him decades ago, he's happy to see the progress in modern medicine and at least somewhat of a change in modern-day mentality.
"It was very nice to meet him and he is a very nice man," said Kristina. "It made me sad to hear how mean people were to him growing up."
"We are so grateful for Paul," said Stacy Heinlein, who called Hanson a "sweet and kind man."
"We're grateful he shared his stories with us. He has been through a lot in his life."
Although Hanson has a lot of heartbreaking stories, he doesn't want to give the impression that he feels sorry for himself. He went on to get his college degree and maintain a solid job in transportation and even got a prosthetic ear.
"I have to take it off every night to clean it, though," he said, excitedly talking to the Heinleins about today's better options and those going into the future.
"Through stem-cell research, they've now grown a perfect human ear on the back of a rat," he said, laughing. "Isn't that amazing?"
Amazing, like a man's desire to give to a little girl he doesn't know. Amazing, like a little girl's desire to give to other kids she doesn't know.
For more information on how to help Kristina raise money to get more copies of her book printed, log on towww.youcaring.com/beansbraveadventures.com.