Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital on Wednesday celebrated the “rebirth” of Chen Tuanzhi (陳團治), a 26-year-old woman from Xiamen, China, one of the few patients in the world with severe congenital genu recurvatum, who gained the ability to walk on her own late last year thanks to seven complicated surgeries performed by the hospital.
The condition is a rare deformity in the knee joint that causes the knee to bend backward.
According to hospital superintendent Kao Ruey-ho (高瑞和), Chen’s plight was brought to the attention of the hospital in early 2013 and she flew to Taiwan in the company of her father in December of that year to allow doctors to assess the feasibility of surgically correcting her condition.
“Due to of her knee deformity, Chen could only move in a manner similar to people with bilateral above-knee amputations, relying on the force caused by swinging her arms to move her thighs and pelvis,” Kao told a news conference in Taipei.
Kao said moving in this manner is energy-consuming and though it might seem bearable for Chen while she is young, it could become unendurable when she gets older.
The medical team decided that surgeries were necessary if Chen did not want to spend the rest of her life having to use a wheelchair, Kao said.
Department of Orthopedics director Chen Ing-ho (陳英和) said that there have only been two documented cases of severe congenital genu recurvatum worldwide.
“One of the patients’ condition was corrected by arthrodesis surgery, but the operation caused limited joint function,” Chen Ing-ho said. “The other case involved the removal of a 6.5cm-long section of the leg bone to create straight limbs, but that resulted in a significant decrease in height.”
Chen Ing-ho and his team came up with a surgical plan designed not only to fix the 26-year-old’s congenital problems, but also to ensure her joint function without losing any height.
The plan involved four closing wedge and open wedge osteotomy surgeries aimed at correcting Chen Tuanzhi’s knees, which were flexed to 160 degrees.
It also included three osteotomy surgeries coupled with Achilles’ Tendon lengthening for her ankles, which had 90 degree pes cavus, a deformity that manifests as high-arched feet.
The seven operations were conducted between March and September last year, followed by extensive physical therapies that lasted until earlier this month, Chen Ing-ho said.
Chen Tuanzhi put on shoes for the first time on Nov. 27 last year and is now able to walk on her feet with the assistance of only one crutch.
She was due to return to Xiamen yesterday.
Chen Tuanzhi said that because her condition was congenital, she had long given up hope of walking like others.
“I am grateful to my parents for not abandoning me when I was little; I am grateful for all the support and care I received at the hospital; and I am most grateful to my superintendent daddy [Chen Ing-ho] for giving me the opportunity to feel what it is really like to stand on my own two feet,” she said.
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