Christina’s life-changing story
“I’ll miss you. Love you. Thank you to everybody for everything”, Christina yelled out to our Retreat Managers, Deb and Judy, as she went through customs at Melbourne International Airport.
Christina looked so happy, confident, and determined as she made her way to the gate to board her flight home to Tanzania. A stark difference to when we picked her up at the arrival gates 19 months ago.
“When we first met her, Christina was really shy and quite unsure of herself”, reflects Deb, our Retreat Manager.
A condition that could have been treated early without surgery
Christina arrived in Australia in February 2020 for surgery and treatment for her severely bowed legs. She was born with a rare genetic condition called hypophosphatemic rickets. Due to low phosphate levels in her blood, her bones were painfully soft and bowed and twisted under her weight as she grew.
Had Christina lived in a more economically developed country like Australia, her condition would have been diagnosed early and treated with medications.
Instead, Christina’s case became extreme. Walking and playing became difficult, running almost impossible. Even lying in the wrong position caused much pain.
With Associate Professor Leo Donnan and St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Melbourne, onboard, everything was set up to begin Christina’s treatment soon after she arrived. But as we all know, the world soon changed as COVID-19 ripped through the globe. And so, Christina’s treatment, along with that of all the other kids at The Retreat, was postponed.
A silver lining
Despite the disappointment, the delay did have a silver lining.
“When Christina first arrived, we could hardly get a word out of her. She was very aware of her differences. Sadly, she had also been picked on. This had taken a huge toll on her confidence,” says Deb.
“At The Retreat, we are very focused on developing an environment where everyone is accepted for who they are. As Christina built relationships with the other kids, staff and volunteers, she really came out of her shell.”
The surgery is on!
As Victoria emerged from its second lockdown, and almost a year after Christina arrived, she now finally had a surgery date. However, the plans were nearly thrown into disarray as Melbourne plunged into yet another lockdown in February.
Thankfully, the incredible team at St Vincent’s Private Hospital remained determined as ever to keep their commitment to Christina, and after careful planning, the surgery was able to proceed.
Associate Professor Donnan and his team attached external frames known as Hexapods around Christina’s legs, connecting them to the underlying bone by wires and screws.
Using advanced software, these Hexapods were programmed for tiny adjustments daily to push, pull, bend and twist Christina’s bones for six weeks. Each day, her legs straightened by approximately 1 millimetre.
Return to The Retreat
After a six day stay at the hospital, Christina returned to The Retreat. Twice each day, staff had to adjust the screws on her legs to help the straightening process.
“It was so painful, but I knew I had to go through it. I couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone at The Retreat”, reflects Christina.
With the support of our volunteer physiotherapists, Christina also had to build up the strength in her legs over several weeks to stand up and slowly walk using a frame.
Once her legs were straight, the frames were removed from Christina’s legs. She spent the next several weeks in casts so that the battered bones could regrow stronger in their new positions.
“She worked diligently at her recovery, doing her exercises, no matter how hard it was”, says Deb.
By the time she returned home in late September, Christina was walking unaided and was very excited about her future.
“My legs are straight! I am very happy. I can’t wait to get stronger so I can swim, dance and do all the other things I couldn’t do before”, says Christina.
But Christina’s remarkable transformation is far more than just physical
“Being at The Retreat, I learnt that I can be myself and that I can be proud of myself. I have become more confident.” reflects Christina.
With her reclaimed mobility, newfound confidence, and her strength and determination, we are sure that Christina will have a very bright future ahead of her.
Thank you to all our volunteers, the medical team, and our supporters and donors for being part of ‘Team Christina’, and making a profound difference to her life.
Hear Christina’s story in her own words
If you’d like to help more young people like Christina access treatment that will transform their lives, please donate today.