Shriner’s Hospital enables Seaside girl to take next step in her recovery from meningococcemia

27 Jan

Before you walk, you stand. And one day last week, that simple act of rising on two legs was MaLea Anne Fox’s milestone.

With her mother supporting her from behind and a prosthetics practitioner steadying her up front, 14-month-old MaLea rose from an exam table at Portland’s Shriner’s Hospital for Children and stood nearly upright. The short sections of her legs that remain were tucked into clear plastic sockets, the basis for prosthetic legs being custom made for her there.

MaLea, who lives in Seaside, was the subject of a front-page story in The Oregonian last July. It described how her mother’s quick thinking, swift work by doctors many miles apart and telemedicine technology combined to save MaLea’s life when she contracted the devastating bacterial infection meningococcemia.

Doernbecher Children’s Hospital finally discharged her Oct. 1, after 111 days and more than two dozen surgeries, including leg amputations and skin grafts.

Though her medical journey is far from over, prosthetic legs will give the sandy-haired girl the chance to catch up developmentally with her peers and, eventually, to run and play as a kid should, says Todd DeWees, the practitioner who’s building them.

In a Shriner’s lab, DeWees and his colleagues craft 4,000 orthotics devices and 800 prosthetics annually. They often start simply, as MaLea’s will — artificial legs absent knees or feet.

“We take kids who have never walked,” DeWees says, “and teach them to walk on stilts.”

 Toddler who lost legs to meningococcemia is fitted for prosthetics
Toddler who lost legs to meningococcemia is fitted for prosthetics 14-month-old MaLea Fox, who almost died of the devastating bacterial infection meningococcemia, gets fitted for prosthesis after losing her lower legs to the condition. Watch video

As MaLea grows proficient, her prosthetics, provided by Shriner’s at no cost, will grow increasingly elaborate.

The hospital tries to get children who need them into such devices as young as possible, so they learn early the value in adapting to prosthetics, which typically isn’t easy.

So last week, during MaLea’s first attempt at standing, her easy smile turned off and tears spilled down her ruddy cheeks. DeWees and MaLea’s mom, Ashley Graber, gave her a rest, sitting her diapered bum down again.

Next time they stood her up in the plastic sockets, the tears had dried and her whimpers went quiet. MaLea scanned the room, her head swiveling left and right as if, from that tall new vantage point, she liked the view.


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