Stepping Into the Future
For a Haitian teen who was completely unable to walk, Stony Brook Medicine’s gift of surgery, therapies and orthopaedic devices has been lifechanging.
Stony Brook Surgeon Wesley V. Carrion, MD, Chief of Pediatric Orthopaedics in the Department of Orthopaedics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, donated his expertise to help 17-year-old Berlinda, who was born with spina bifida and two clubbed feet. After months of treatment, she has taken her very first steps with the help of leg braces and the skill of her Stony Brook team.
An untreated case of polio made her condition even more complicated. She crawled from place to place in her village named Milot in Haiti. Despite her hardships, Berlinda was known for her love of learning and friendly smile.
Dr. Carrion learned of Berlinda through Stephen Kramer, PhD, a retired Brookhaven National Laboratory accelerator physicist. Kramer met the teen when he traveled to her country with the non-profit organization Life & Hope. Impressed by her spirit in the face of tough circumstances, Kramer reached out to Dr. Carrion, sending him copies of Berlinda’s X-rays and a video of her.
After studying the X-rays, Dr. Carrion decided that treatment could rotate Berlinda’s feet, with the hope that eventually she might stand on her own. He performed surgery late last year, after agreeing to do it free of charge.
For awhile Berlinda’s legs were put in external fixators – stabilizing frames to stretch her tendons and hold her bones in place. The devices, attached by metal screws drilled into the leg bones, were effective but uncomfortable, and Berlinda was relieved when they were removed. She then spent a brief time in leg casts.
Berlinda now has custom-fitted leg braces. Until her coordination and muscle strength improve, the braces can be locked straight to help support her. When the braces are unlocked, Berlinda can bend her legs for sitting and bedtime.
Now Berlinda is working with Stony Brook University Hospital physical therapists Lisa Plank, Kim Belizar and Jennifer Kreppein, as well as occupational therapist Carol Grosch.
After months of treatment, they have helped her to stand up and take steps with her leg braces on. For Berlinda, this is huge progress.
She also is continuing her schooling here in the United States, happily digging into new knowledge through one-on-one instruction.
Dr. Carrion said it’s still too soon to know if Berlinda will be able to stand on her own, without the braces. Nerve damage she might have sustained, when she had polio at age three, could complicate her efforts to walk.
Next for Berlinda is more physical therapy. Then her medical team will try to get her walking with her leg braces. For Berlinda, that will be a long way from having to crawl, Dr. Carrion said – and a world of progress for a teenager who traveled 1,500 miles to Stony Brook for medical care.