Teen with severe bowlegs undergoes life-changing operation

A teen in West Africa who at age 4 begged her parents to quit school because she had developed severely bowed legs that made it difficult to walk, now plans to return to her studies after undergoing a life-changing operation to straighten her limbs.

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The 14-year-old, named Valerie, underwent the surgery onboard Africa Mercy, a hospital ship full of nurses, doctors and medical personnel that provides care to African nations where health care is scarce. The ship, part of Mercy Ship’s fleet, operated on 76 children in a 10-month span while docked near Valerie’s home of Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa, according to SWNS.

Valerie, pictured left before her surgery and right after being released from the hospital, now plans to return to school.

Valerie, pictured left before her surgery and right after being released from the hospital, now plans to return to school. (SWNS)

During the procedure, surgeons removed a wedge of bone from the outside of Valerie’s knees, and cut down the front of her kneecap. Surgeons then drilled guide wires into her shin bones, and took several more steps to straighten the bone structure before stitching her tissue back together, SWNS reported.

She spent four months in physical therapy, where she was introduced to the alphabet and was inspired to learn how to read.

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“I was desperate to learn how to read,” she said, according to SWNS. “A friend on board gave me a few alphabet pages for me to trace – and the next day I told her I needed more to read!”

Valerie, pictured recovering after her surgery which took place on board Africa Mercy, said she is excited to see her old classmates again. 

Valerie, pictured recovering after her surgery which took place on board Africa Mercy, said she is excited to see her old classmates again.  (SWNS)

Valerie, who had started working at her uncle’s tailoring shop, said she no longer wants to be a seamstress, and can’t wait to see her old classmates.

“I was very happy,” she said, of the surgery’s results, according to SWNS. “I told myself, ‘I no longer want to be a seamstress. I want to go back to school. Not long after then, my legs were strong enough for me to go home. School will be great. People will say, ‘Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight!’”

Bowlegs is diagnosed when the legs curve outward at an extreme angle at the knees when the child’s feet are together, according to Children’s National Hospital. The legs typically begin to straighten as the child puts weight on them and learns to walk, but if by toddler-age the curve has not begun to straighten or it has worsened, there may be a more serious underlying condition.

Some of the causes have been identified as rickets, which is a bone growth issue, Blount’s disease, abnormal bone development, fractures that do not heal correctly or lead or fluoride poisoning, according to Children’s National Hospital. If left untreated, as was the case with Valerie, bowlegs can lead to deformities such as differences in leg lengths, difficulty walking and running and high risk of arthritis.

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Braces, vitamin D or calcium supplements, or even surgery are explored as possible treatments for bowlegs.