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Little girl given new hope, life with hip replacement surgery

5:26 PM, Sep 21, 2011

Written by Cheryl Preheim Source: 9News.com

DENVER–  Every step may be small and careful, but they are perfect because Maria Valdez can take them. It is something she thought would be impossible.Severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis struck every joint in her body when she was a young girl living in a remote part of Panama.

“I couldn’t walk. I was in so much pain my whole life.” said Maria – now 23 years old.

She’ll always remember this as the year her life changed. She’ll always remember doctors in Denver were the ones that made that happen; that is why she was so happy to come to Colorado for a visit. Porter Hospital is about 3,000 miles from her small village.

When Dr. Douglas Dennis saw Maria, he smiled and shouted across the lobby. “There’s my girl!”

She stood up and walked toward him to give him a big hug.

“Thank you, thank you. You are in my heart.” Maria said.

He held her hand and answered, “You are in my heart too.”

They met in November 2010 when Dr. Dennis traveled to Panama with a group of 63 volunteers from Operation Walk Denver.

“We heard about this little girl in a remote village in Panama who had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since [age 4] and hadn’t walked since age 9.”

For 14 years, Maria was confined to a wheelchair.

“Her hips were so destroyed, they were molded together, and she was essentially molded into the wheelchair she had been in the majority of her life,” Dr. Dennis said.

Dr. Dennis and his team replaced both of her hips. They returned to Panama five months later and did a total knee replacement on both of her legs.

Maria traveled to Denver in September with a life she never imagined she could have.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. They are with me every day. I think of them every day. Without them, I would never have been able to walk,” Maria cried as she talked about the people who have helped her. “I believe they are angels sent from above.”

Dr. Dennis says he is touched too.

“To see her walk normally, it’s pretty fulfilling. That is what our mission is,” Dr. Dennis said.

Visit www.operationwalkdenver.org to learn more about the organization and the many impoverished people it helps give a new chance at life.

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