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Home Our Missions Mission of Medicine Standing Tall at the Age of Twenty-Six

Standing Tall at the Age of Twenty-Six

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"Look at the ocean, I am finally here at the beach of Hualien. It is very beautiful!" Those were the words of Miss Chen Tuanzhi (陳團治) when she walked out into the world for the first time in her life on her own two feet. She is from Xiamen, Fujian Province in southeastern China. She came to Hualien, Taiwan for a miracle and spent her 26-year-old birthday in the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital for treatment.

For the first 26 years of her life, she was disabled and could only barely move using the back of her knees because of her rare condition. She was born with bilateral congenital knee recurvatum, bending her knees backward in an L-shape toward her upper body. In addition, a deformity of her ankles made her relied on only the back of her knees to move forward. Her family brought her to seek various medical treatments, but the results were always disappointing. Add to her predicament was her family's limited financial resources. So her family gave up hope of ever seeing her standing on her own two feet.

Despite all her disabilities, Tuanzhi is always an optimistic person. She learned to take care of herself and share housework, like washing clothes, cooking and mopping floors. She even obtained a steady job in a school for autistic children. However, due to her growing bone structure and increasing daily activities, she began to experience pain in her waist and legs. Her body weight also became a great burden as she lift herself up on her hands every step of the way.

Fortunately, with assistance from Tzu Chi volunteers in Xiamen, Tuanzhi came to Taiwan for her dream to stand up on her own feet. Over a period of six months, she received seven orthopedic operations in Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital. Following by a series of physical therapies, the young girl could finally stand tall on her own and see the beautiful scenery of Hualien.

Going to Taiwan

In May 2013, another young patient from Xiamen, Mr. Yang Xiaodong (楊曉東), also received a life changing treatment in the same hospital. His condition is known as ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease of the spine that can cause fusion of vertebrae in the spine, making the spine less flexible and leading to a hunched-forward posture. He underwent surgeries to correct a 140-degree bend of his spinal curve.

On October of the same year, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Liu Kuan-Lin (劉冠麟) and Tzu Chi volunteers accompanied him to a local hospital in his community to discuss his follow-up treatment. Impressed by Tzu Chi's charity work and its medical care, Mr. Pan Shijian (潘世建), Deputy Chair of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Xiamen, invited Dr. Liu to assess another patient, Tuanzhi, with rare disease.

After a basic check-up, Dr. Liu brought her medical records which were dated 15 years ago for further discussion with his surgical team back in Hualien. To have the updated test results, a couple of months later on December 22, 2013, Tuanzhi and her father in accompany with Tzu Chi volunteers from Xiamen flew to Taiwan for more detail examination.

A medical team was created especially for her care. Dr. Chen Ing-Ho (陳英和), an orthopedic surgeon and honorary superintendent, led the team which included Dr. Chen Pier-Rong (陳培榕), an ENT (ear nose throat) surgeon and vice superintendent, and other orthopedic, rehabilitation and pediatrics specialists. They found that in the medical history, her condition was extremely rare with less than 20 cases ever documented.

Based on her examination results and historical medical records, the team worked hard to design the best treatment plan for her. While the doctors were busy in planning and preparation, Tuanzhi was discharged and went home with her father to prepare for her surgeries that she could only dream about before.

A long journey to recovery

Tuanzhi spent her Chinese New Year at home with family. After the holiday, she departed for a long medical treatment to fulfill her lifelong dream—stand tall. Accompanied by her mother and Tzu Chi volunteers from Xiamen, she arrived at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital.

On March 11, 2014, the day before her first surgery, Tuanzhi went to Jing Si Abode to express her gratitude to Master Cheng Yen, founder of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, and Tzu Chi volunteers for all the help she received. Superintendent Kao Ruey-Ho (高瑞和), medical staff and volunteers went with her. At the end of this meeting, Master Cheng Yen put a bracelet of Tzu Chi Buddhist prayer beads on her hand as a constant reminder of Great Love for her. Master also encouraged her to be brave, to have confidence in the medical team, and to be grateful to her parents.

On the next day, she underwent an arthroplasty (joint replacement) surgery for her right knee, which was to straighten her right leg. Ten days later, she received the same procedure to correct her left knee. The procedures had corrected the unusual 130-degrees bending of both joints. However, since the deformity and osteoporosis were more serious on the left knee, the medical team performed a further correction procedure on the left knee.

After the third surgery, her mother looked at her in the recovery room. Beaming with joy, she said, "They are straight! Both of her legs are really straight now!"

Doctors and nurses asked Tuanzhi if she felt anything different after the surgery. "Of course it's different. I can finally sleep on my back," she said joyfully.

Even after the corrective procedures, she still had to go through a sequence of physical therapies to strengthen her leg muscle. To begin her rehabilitation, a therapist focused on massages and stretches of her muscles and tendons. Despite all the pain and discomfort in her rehabilitation, Tuanzhi always gave a big smile to the people around her.

On April 30, to correct the clubfoot on her right ankle, she received another surgery. Two weeks later, another surgery was performed to correct her left ankle. Doctors replaced her orthopedic casts every two week and watched her recover. Finally, the medical team brought her a training device for walking practice. Enduring the pain, she placed both of her feet on the ground and walked her very first step carefully. "I have waited 26 years. I finally can stand up and walk," she cried with excitement.

The team tried hard to help her, so that she could stand and walk in the future. They took in the consideration of her leg joints not being in the best condition. For her to keep her balance, she must avoid any slightest angle off in her joints. Therefore, further procedures on her right knee and ankle were performed to adjust another 30 degrees. That ended her six months of surgical treatment.

The surgery helped to straighten her legs. However, in order to walk normally, she still required to go through a long period of physical therapy. Every morning Dr. Hsu Chia-Li (徐佳俐), a therapist, worked with her and went through different therapy practices. Even though each practice was very painful, Tuanzhi persevered and pushed herself through it because she was determined to improve her mobility. At the end of October, she was able to stand tall by herself and walk with crutches. Dr. Chen Ing-Ho agreed to move her physical therapy outdoors to give her occupational therapy, so that she could develop and maintain the daily living and work skills. It was also a preparation for her to be independent in the near future.

Love and care from everyone

During her six months of hospital stay, her mother was always just a step away whenever she had a surgery, waiting anxiously outside the operation room. Her mother could only let go of her anxiety when she saw her daughter came out of surgery and into the recovery room. Then she would call her husband with the good news of another successful surgery. Since she was only concentrating on her daughter, she forgot her medical needs and her own medication for high blood pressure. The medical team sent her to see a cardiologist to control her blood pressures.

"Even I am far away from home, I feel I am at home to have so many people care for us," she said after seeing the care and love from the medical personnel, volunteers and Dharma masters from the Jing Si Abode.

Her father also traveled to Taiwan to visit Tuanzhi. The moment he saw his daughter walking with the training device, he bent down to feel her toes and legs and said, "I really couldn't believe my eyes. This miracle has really happened."

There was also a surprise visit from the school where Tuanzhi used to work. Deputy Director, Ms. Chen Shin (陳新), of the school came with a video made by the teachers; it was full of their well wishes and encouragement. When she followed Tuanzhi to her physical therapy session and saw Tuanzhi step out with straightened legs for the first time, she could not help herself to burst into tears of joy.

The Doctor Papa

Tuanzhi always called Dr. Chen Ing-Ho as 'Doctor Papa' because Dr. Chen visited Tuanzhi every day to check on her condition as if he was caring for his own daughter. He would kneel down on the ground to stay close to her healing scars and smell to ensure there was no sign of infection. He also tried on the walking devices for her rehabilitation before he taught her on how to use them. He even used his lunch break to shop for a pair of shoes for her that was both comfortable and in a beautiful style that any girl would like. She loved this shoe very much and said with gratitude, "To wear the shoe Dr. Papa picked for me makes me very happy".

During her long recovery period in the hospital, people around her cared for her like she was their own sister or daughter. When the post-surgery discomfort made Tuanzhi lose her appetite, they took turns to cook her delicious meals and snacks. Ms. Chen Yu-Chun (陳玉娟), head nurse of the orthopedic ward, often braided her long hair to lift her spirit and keep her in a good mood. Knowing how much she dreamed about wearing a skirt, Ms. Yen Hui-May (顏惠美), a Tzu Chi volunteer, selected a beautiful skort (a combination of skirt and short) for her to wear during her physical therapy sessions. Ms. Yen even trimmed the skort using hand stitches to fit it to her size.

Reach out to help others

During her long recovery period, she received love and care from many people. Tuanzhi said that she was especially grateful to people from Tzu Chi and her friends in Xiamen for giving her so much care and blessings. In return, Tuanzhi wished to help others in need to spread love. She donated well-wish cash gifts she received to Tzu Chi's international disaster relief fund. Her donation joined others to rebuild schools damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

In addition, she actively volunteers in Tzu Chi activities. During her stay in the hospital, she attended a musical memorial service for organ donors and a screening of an educational film about rare diseases to show her support. She also took part in making Tzu Chi red envelopes for Chinese New Year to add in her well wishes and form good affinities with people.

At the age of 26, Tuanzhi met Tzu Chi and flipped her life to begin anew. After 10 months of medical treatment and rehabilitation, she grew from 93 to 128 centimeters tall. The members of the medical team acted like architects, who in a way redesigned her legs and rebuilt her life. Now she can walk and live independently. With the help and love of those around her, she now has a brighter future with vast opportunities in front of her.

On January 22, 2015, accompanied by volunteers and medical personnel from Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, Ms. Chen Tuanzhi went home, full of blessings.

[Da Ai Headlines 20140714]


[Da Ai Headlines 20141009]


[Tzu Chi This Week 20151226]



Article by Tu Mei-Chi and Su Hui-Chi
Translated by Sarah Chu and Jessie Yang
Edited by Mark O’Neil and Yuru Chou


 

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