Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Op enables teenager to walk again

Charlotte Volante on the beach at Green Island, Jersey

A teenager who was told to get a wheelchair and get on with life because she would never walk again was able to take her first steps after a pioneering operation.

Charlotte Volante, from Jersey, had been confined to a wheelchair since the age of 11 after being born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

But children's orthopaedic expert Caroline Edwards was confident she could get Charlotte standing again - and after a complicated operation last July to lengthen the tight muscles at the hips, knees and feet, Charlotte amazed her family by standing up next to her hospital bed.

Not only did the procedure at Southampton General Hospital enable Charlotte to stand upright in a supported frame, the improvement in movement allowed her to take her first steps. Supported by a nurse and her mother Bernadette, 52, the teenager was then able to walk around her ward and the nurses' station.

The breakthrough was just 10 days before her 18th birthday and left Charlotte and her family with a double reason to celebrate.

Charlotte, the youngest of five girls and two boys, said: "When I was 11, I was given an electric wheelchair and told to just get on with it. After I met Caroline, I agreed to let her do the op she suggested but I didn't really know if it would work. Walking again after my operation did not feel strange and it didn't hurt; it just felt completely natural."

It has been a long road for Charlotte as she and her parents have made more than 500 return trips to Southampton for treatment. The breakthrough operation in the summer had been Charlotte's 43rd surgical procedure. She has undergone numerous operations on her head, legs, back and stomach. She will still have to return to Southampton for further treatment including having new splints fitted.

Charlotte is one of 15 children and young people who have benefited from a pioneering accelerated rehabilitation programme developed by the hospital. The programme can see patients walking within six weeks of hip surgery through the use of a removable brace.

Conventionally, patients are placed in plaster shorts - known as a spica - for six to eight weeks. These hold the hip in place but limit movement, causing muscle wastage, delaying the start of therapy treatment and preventing them from standing for at least three months.

Under accelerated rehabilitation, patients are placed in their brace at night or during periods of rest following surgery, allowing early movement and standing to preserve muscle strength or comfortable seating. The programme is already helping young cerebral palsy patients as well as those with spina bifida, where a series of birth defects affect the development of the spine and nervous system.

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