By Jennifer Browning
As she hops along the isle of the pediatric ward with her walker, fourteen-year-old Michaelle greets everyone with an ear-to-ear smile. She has such great energy and attitude, that you barely notice her left leg is missing.
Michaelle’s injury was not earthquake related. Before the quake she had surgery for her Spina bifida, which allowed her to be able to walk. However, her condition still left her with no feeling in her feet. As Michaelle’s feet would drag along Port-au-Prince’s terrain–now even more treacherous than before– she developed wounds on both feet which became infected. Michaelle’s left leg was much worse off than the right, so orthopedic surgeons at Project Medishare’s hospital chose to monitor the right leg for a while instead of immediately amputating both.
“Unfortunately she isn’t able to ambulate,” Dr. Andy Brief, a volunteer orthopedic surgeon from New Jersey said. “Because of her neurological condition she can’t have the feeling of sensation in her feet so she developed a contractable infection and will likely need both legs amputated.”
For now orthopedic doctors have already made plans for Michaelle to receive a prosthetic limb for her left leg to get her more mobile.
“She is young and otherwise healthy,” Dr. Brief said. “The future for someone who can be fit with an appropriate prosthetic is bright. She can live a normal functional life a long as she is met with the right rehabilitation and prosthetic.”
Doctors in the pediatric ward said that it took much effort to convince Michaelle’s mother that the left leg needed to be amputated below the knee in order to save the young girl’s life.Through interpreters, psychiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and social workers, Michaelle’s mother agreed to the surgery.
“Initially, her mother reacted very poorly. It was an option she wouldn’t consider, but over the course of 24 hours, because of everyone’s help we were able to convince her that an appropriate start would be to serve her left leg and deal with her right leg in the near the future.”
Michaelle’s mother, Kaya, said that at first she was fearful of the doctors taking her daughter’s leg.
“My daughter after the surgery began to walk. Not well, but she could walk. I thought, how would she walk without a leg,” Kiouska said. “But then I realized that my daughter may not live because her leg was infected, and doctors told me about this fake leg that could help her walk. I feel better that her other leg has a chance and may not need to be taken.”
Dr. Brief said if doctors do have to take Michaelle’s right leg, that her life would continue, but that she would need two prosthetic legs.
Michaelle’s amputation is a below the knee amputation. Because of this, should Michaelle need an amputation on her right leg, a normal life would still be possible because the amputation would be below the knee.
“People have run marathons with bilateral below knee prosthetics,” he said. “I am not saying that is in her future because of her neurological injury, but she should have a normal functioning gate pattern if and when she is fitted with the proper prosthetic.”
Volunteer physical therapists said that Michaelle is doing well with her rehabilitation exercises.
Last week, Project Medishare’s rehabilitation coordinator Dr. Robert Gailey from the University of Miami and prosthetist Adam Finnieston flew to Project Medishare’s field hospital in Port-au-Prince to begin fitting prosthetic legs to our amputee patients. Patients like Michaelle, who once saw a grim future will be able to have a chance at a more normal life.
Michaelle has a tough road ahead still. She still needs to be fitted with her prosthetic leg. The new leg will bring with it hours of difficult physical therapy and rehabilitation as she learns how to walk on it. But the spirit of this young girl will be enough to take on those challenges.