For six years, Matt Defer has been making boots by hand. The Henrietta, Texas, man has become a great craftsman, but he’s never made a boot as rewarding as his latest pair.
“They feel good and I like the pink shoelaces because I like the hot pink,” said 6-year-old Laura Stephan as she danced in her new footwear. “I like them.”
It was the first boot Defer made with a lace or a glue-on sole. He’s also never made a boot for anyone with a foot deformity. Laura was born with abnormally-shaped feet and hands. She has just two toes on each foot and two fingers on each hand, all of which point in different directions than a typical digit.
“He needed help,” said Defer, referring to Laura’s dad, Tom, who has been trying to make shoes for his daughter. “I pretty much told him, ‘You jumped into the deepest part of the ocean. You skipped the kiddie pool, you skipped the deep end, and jumped into the deepest part of the ocean.'”
Defer saw the 10News On The Road story from May that described the Stephan’s struggles to get shoes on Laura’s feet. The man with a heart the size of Texas drove more than 18 hours to the Stephan’s home to personally deliver the boots.
They are made of brown and black leather, with pink stitching of Laura’s initials and butterflies.
Photos: Texas man makes boots for Palm Harbor girl's deformed feet
“He told me about it and I told him I’d do anything to help him,” said Ben Johnson, a friend of Defer’s who did the stitching. “I can run a sewing machine so that’s what I got stuck doing.”
The boots are an incredible gift for the family. Tom is headed off to shoe school in July to learn the art of making shoes from industry professionals. These boots will bridge the gap in the meantime.
“To have somebody drive 18 hours from Texas to see these boots on my daughter is a lot, and I’m grateful for it. I’m overwhelmed,” he said through tears. “It was very moving spiritually and emotionally.
"There is so much prayer at work over this daughter.”
Laura ran and danced through the house in her new shoes after her dad slipped them on her feet. Defer checked them to make sure they fit just right. He and Johnson will stay with the Stephans for a day or two before heading back to Texas.
Tom promised them a fishing trip as a thank you.
"You do what you do, and you do what you do because you're supposed to do it,” Defer said. “This is without a doubt the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
He and Laura sat on the couch together admiring the boots.
“‘Are we friends now?’” Defer asked with a chuckle.
Laura just smiled. She was too busy looking at her boots to answer.
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