ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- A year and a half after Maria Del Carmen arrived at Shriner's Hospital for Children in St. Louis, she is heading back home to Colombia, South America with her dreams of walking on the road to being fulfilled. She still uses crutches while she heals, but has also begun taking small steps on her own. That's something you and I take for granted, but it was a hard-earned gift for Maria.
Maria grew up struggling to get around without crutches. Her legs bent and twisted due to a genetic form of Rickets, a bone disease that keeps the body from building strong bones. She wasn't able to run with the other kids or go on school field trips to the mountains. She says it was tough to go anywhere because the public transportation system in Colombia is not well-equipped to handle people with disabilities. Doctors in her home country failed to diagnose her condition and she received no treatment.
The Manager of Respiratory Therapy at Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Louis, Marcela Spraul is also from Colombia. She heard about Maria and an organization called World Pediatric Project arranged for Maria to travel to St. Louis for treatment. Maria and her family were very excited and full of hope. Her dad said they had waited 19 years for a chance at a miracle.
Doctor Gary Gottesman put Maria on a six-month drug protocol to harden her bones for surgery and it worked. Dr. J. Eric Gordon, an orthopedic surgeon, and his team performed a long, complex surgery to straighten Maria's legs.
With metal external fixators in place to help the healing, she underwent months of intensive and sometimes painful rehabilitation, along with a second surgery to straighten her lower leg bones and feet.
Seventeen-months after struggling in the door of Shriner’s Hospital, Maria still uses crutches while she heals, but she is also taking those important first small steps on the road to recovery and seeing her dreams come true.
Dr. Gordon says Maria's doing great and adds, "Our hope right now is as she goes home that she will progressively work off the crutches and get to the point where she can walk and do most of her daily activities on her own." She will face about another year of rehab at home. She plans to go to college, possibly in St. Louis and wants to be a biomedical engineer.
Maria's mom says she is so grateful to God and all the people who have helped her daughter look forward to a better life.
Maria says the pain and being far from home were the hardest parts, but she is so grateful to America, St. Louis, Shriners Hospital, the World Pediatric Project, Marcella Spraul and the Parkway School district where she learned English during her stay.
Maria sums up her feelings this way, "It feels like I win a prize like a victory, now I can walk and dance maybe, I don`t know. I`m just so happy, and so excited about it."