British doctors have helped a 12-year-old Ghanaian girl with a rare leg deformity to walk again after two groundbreaking operations in which they had to break both her legs in three places.
Gloria Abeka, from Accra, will spend more than eight months in the UK recovering from the operations to correct her painful bowed legs, which also included them being pinned with 22 screws in what is a rare procedure in this country.
She is now able to sit and stand and she will soon be able to walk and play with friends for the first time. She said the doctors who helped her have changed her life.
Gloria suffered a rare bone disease called Blount's and had grown accustomed to pain and disfigurement. The condition - a severe growth disorder which caused both her legs to bend and twist inwards below the knees - left Gloria consigned to crutches and a wheelchair, unable to play with friends or sit in comfort.
But she met Basingstoke-based consultant anaesthetist Keith Thomson last August during one of his regular visits to Africa with the charity organisation Mercy Ships, which provides free medical care and treatment to poor children and adults in West Africa. The youngster's plight inspired Mr Thomson to launch a UK-wide email hunt for a surgeon who might be able to help, which led him to Vel Sakthivel, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton Children's Hospital, who specialises in complex knee problems.
Gloria and her mother Mercy Yeboah, 54, were flown over to meet Mr Sakthivel last August, when he assessed her and agreed to perform two groundbreaking operations to extend both shin bones to allow her to stand up straight.
"I have seen children with this condition to a much smaller degree in the past but the severity really was the worst I have seen so far - an extreme case," he said.
Mr Sakthivel and his anaesthetist Andy Wilkins invited Gloria back to undergo a radical procedure which involved breaking her right leg in three places, known as a triple tibial osteotomy, to correct the distorted shin bone with a graft, three metal plates and 11 screws. After spending three months with family and friends in Slough, Berkshire, recuperating and undergoing intensive physiotherapy, Gloria made good progress and returned to Southampton in March for the same procedure on the other leg.
Mr Sakthivel said: "This sort of extensive surgery is very rarely required in the Western world and, to my knowledge, has not been reported in the UK before. It was an extreme case that required something very different if we were to have any hope of success." He added: "Much credit must also go to Mr Adrian Wilson, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Basingstoke Hospital, and paediatric physiotherapist Bev Pinnick for their help in arranging an excellent and much-needed specialist physiotherapy programme."
Although still in the process of regaining strength and movement, Gloria is now able to sit and stand with straight legs. "I am so, so happy. I have spent my whole life with very bowed legs and have never been able to join in games with my friends, feel normal or be without pain. My mother calls my surgeon Mr Sakthivel 'the magician' because she says he worked a true miracle on me." Gloria, who is hoping to return home with her mother in the next three months, added: "I cannot thank him and Dr Thomson enough for what they have done for me - they have changed my life."