Almost home time!

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With Sonia and Ilona completing their life-changing treatments, it won’t be long before we wave them goodbye. Every farewell is bittersweet, and sending off these gorgeous ladies, along with Ilona’s mum Freda, will be no exception. It is only made easier with the knowledge that they are all heading home to a brighter future.

Sonia, Papua New Guinea

Sonia pre and post-surgery and treatment.

20-year-old Sonia was diagnosed with a rare degenerative bone disease when she was seven years old. As a result, Sonia grew up with one leg significantly shorter than the other.

For over a decade, Sonia hobbled kilometres to school. As the condition progressed, the agonisingly long and slow limp to school, which took over an hour each way, became all too much. Sadly, Sonia had to stop going to school and put a pause on her hopes and dreams.

Sonia arrived at The Retreat in early 2020 and soon began her leg-lengthening treatment at Epworth Richmond, under the expertise of Professor Minoo Patel. After a long journey, involving multiple surgeries, ongoing treatment, rehabilitation and physiotherapy, Sonia is now walking pain-free.

Sonia will resume her studies when she returns home and be well on her way to realising her dreams.

“I feel better than I have ever felt before, and I am super happy with the outcome of the treatment. My everyday life has become so much easier. I can’t wait to go back to school, and I’m really looking forward to the future,” says Sonia.

Ilona, Papua New Guinea

Ilona pre and post-surgery and treatment.

12-year-old Ilona, also from Papua New Guinea, was born with hemiplegia, a condition which causes paralysis on one vertical half of the body. As a result, Ilona grew up walking on her right toe, unable to put her foot flat to the ground. This caused her gait to be very unsteady, and poor Ilona often fell over due to a lack of balance and coordination.

Ilona and her mum, Freda, arrived to us in mid-2019. Led by Associate Professor Leo Donnan, her treatment began with surgery to correct her foot and ankle at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Melbourne. During the surgery, a plate was also inserted into Ilona’s right hip to help stabilise it.

During the months of rehabilitation and physiotherapy that followed the surgery, we discovered that Ilona suffered from mild seizures. To the rescue came paediatrician Dr Susie Gibb, who helped Ilona and her mum manage these seizures over several months.

Now walking much more comfortably, and with strategies and medication to manage her seizures, Ilona is looking forward to the future.

When we asked Ilona how she felt about completing her treatment, her face lit up as she beamed with the answer, “happy”.

Freda (Ilona’s mum), Papua New Guinea

Freda in the midst of another gardening project.

We cannot talk about Ilona without mentioning her wonderful mum Freda. Over the last two years, Freda has become an invaluable member of The Retreat family. Of course, parents and carers get involved with looking after all the kids at The Retreat, and doing the household chores, but Freda always goes above and beyond. We will miss her dearly.

Freda couldn’t be more delighted with the outcome of Ilona’s treatment. She’s also very pleased with how much Ilona has learnt during her time at The Retreat.

“I’m so happy with Ilona’s leg. Also, being here is good for Ilona. She learnt English, how to do puzzles and how to help in the kitchen,” says Freda proudly.

Freda is also grateful for her time at The Retreat which she believes has been hugely beneficial to her.  The opportunity to improve her English, as well as taking on gardening projects and learning green-fingered tips and tricks from Tania (one of our Retreat staff members who is also a skilled landscape gardener) has given her lots of confidence. “I hope to set up a small business at home. Maybe growing and selling vegetables and eggs.”

If you’d like to help more young people like Sonia and Ilona transform their lives, please donate today.


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