Girl, 14, with severely bowed legs gets life-changing surgery to correct her deformity which forced her to drop out of school after being heavily bullied
- Valerie, from Cotonou in Benin, West Africa, quit school after being bullied
- But she plans to return after surgeons from the charity Mercy Ships fixed legs
- The teenager can’t wait to learn how to read and write after renewed confidence
Incredible photos show the transformation of a teenager whose bowed legs drew so much ridicule she dropped out of school.
Known only as Valerie, the 14-year-old’s limbs arched outwardly as she got older. It made it extremely difficult for her to walk.
The schoolgirl, from Cotonou in Benin, West Africa, was picked on for her condition and begged her family to pull her out of classes.
But she plans to return to school after surgeons from the charity Mercy Ships cut the bones in each leg, untwisted her limbs and set them back in place with plaster casts.
Valerie, 14, suffered from bowlegs, which caused her limbs to bend outwards and make it extremely difficult to walk
The teen (relearning to walk after surgery), from Cotonou in Benin, West Africa, was picked on for her condition and begged her family to pull her out of school
Valerie had joined her uncle’s tailoring shop as an apprentice to keep busy and bring in money for her impoverished family after quitting school.
The talented seamstress was sewing one day when a customer told her a hospital boat operated by Mercy Ships has docked at a port in the city.
Valerie became one of 76 children to receive free surgery during the boat’s 10-month stay.
The charity uses hospital ships to deliver free health care services to less-developed parts of the world.
Valerie was in post-surgery rehab for about four months, during which she learned to read.
She said: ‘I was very happy. I told myself I no longer want to be a seamstress. I want to go back to school.
Valerie became one of 76 children to receive free surgery on a hospital ship used to deliver free, world-class health care services to less-developed parts of the world
Valerie was in post-surgery rehab for about four months, during which she learned to read
WHAT ARE BOWED LEGS?
The medical name for bow legs is genu varum. It is normal for a baby’s legs to be bowed at birth.
When babies are born with bow legs it’s because some of the bones had to twist slightly when they were growing in the womb to fit into the small space.
But under normal circumstances, a child’s legs will become straighter by the age of about two years.
Gradual correction occurs as children grow, so that by the age of six years their legs look normal.
But in developing countries, bow legs can persist for longer due to more serious health conditions like rickets, a bone growth problem due to lack of vitamin D or calcium.
‘I was desperate to learn how to read. A friend on-board gave me a few alphabet pages for me to trace – and the next day I told her I needed more to read.
‘Not long after then, my legs were strong enough for me to go home. School will be great. People will say, “Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight”.’
Bow-leggedness is a deformity marked by outward bowing at the knee, which gives the limb the appearance of an archer’s bow.
The chief cause is rickets, but it can also be caused by skeletal problems, infections, and tumours. Valerie did not wish to disclose the cause of her condition.
During the teenager’s knee operation, surgeons removed a wedge of bone from the outside of both her knees, causing her legs to bend inward.
After general anaesthetic was administered, a five-inch incision was made down the front and outside of her knees.
Guide wires were drilled into the top of the shin bones from the outside of the knees, before a saw was run along those wires, removing most of the bone wedge.
The tops of Valerie’s shin bones were then lowered on the outside and attached with surgical screws, before her tissue was stitched back together.
Mercy Ships operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing humanitarian aid for terminally-ill patients.
It has operated in more than 57 developing nations and 18 developed nations around the world, with a current focus on African countries.
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