MADISON (WKOW)-- In February, we took you to rural Guatemala to see how local volunteers are saving lives. Now, we bring their latest effort to save a young woman from succumbing to a terrible condition. So many people opened their hearts to help.
Alma Xiomara Morales Diaz is 17-years-old. Alma is like most in the Central American country. Her family is poor. Yet, Alma is like all teenagers. She wants to hang out with her friends and fit in. Alma hopes to be a teacher someday.
But Alma's future doesn't look good. She has severe scoliosis. Her spine is twisted like a corkscrew creating a large lump in her back and encroaching on her lungs and other organs.
That and other issues would have most definitely shortened Alma's life.
"She felt very sad because her mother had taken her to the doctor in Guatemala and they hadn't given her any hope," Kim Tews translated.
Local non-profit Outreach for World Hope raised the money to bring Alma and her parents to Madison to have the surgeries that will fix Alma's back.
"The worst spine deformity I have ever seen," said Dr. Ken Noonan, who specializes in children's orthopedics.
A team of volunteer translators, doctors, nurses, surgery staff and local hospital donated their time and services to perform the operations.
"I think that's something we all strive to do is take care of kids," said neurosurgeon Dr. Taryn Bragg.
An abnormality on Alma's brainstem led to a cyst on her spinal cord, causing the curvature in her spine.
Doctors Taryn Bragg and Benny Iskandar are neurosurgeons. They drained the cyst and stabilized Alma's brainstem.
Next came the operation to straighten her spine.
Dr. Ken Noonan specializes in children's orthopedics.
His team spent 17 hours performing two surgeries in one day.
"We had to cut her ribs on each side of her spine and then we had to do osteotomites, cut her spine in 6 or 7 levels to loosen it up to correct it," said Dr. Noonan.
There was a 2 to 3 percent chance Alma would be paralyzed.
But all the surgeries were a success.
"I would say that now she has a normal life expectancy," said Dr. Noonan.
A company called Biomet donated state-of-the-art implants now holding Alma's back together.
"The instrumentation is a framework for her body to fuse, so her bones still need to heal," said Dr. Bragg. "That will take several months for bone to form across each of the joints."
"There many more who should be coming and getting the care but they can't," said Dr. Iskandar.
Alma spent weeks in intensive care.
"She didn't want to be in the bed for so long. She was tied up, hooked to tubes and wires," Kim Tews translated.
While many, including Alma, believe the surgeons and hospital staff are the heroes.
Dr. Noonan says Alma's the real hero.
"I'm not sure there is a bigger operation you can do and she's tough as nails, she's amazing," said Dr. Noonan.
Alma's parents say there are no words to describe how grateful they are. And that Alma has given them strength and encouragement. The family returns home Friday.
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