Woman's agony leads to joy of walking tall

Woman's agony leads to joy of walking tall

Chen Tuanzhi felt excruciating pain when she walked on her feet for the first time in 26 years.

The woman from Xiamen, Fujian province, had been suffering from an extremely serious congenital condition known as genu recurvatum since she was born. The rare disease made her legs below the knees bend backward about 90 degrees.

The deformity meant Chen could not walk normally. She had to swing her arms forcefully in order to move her pelvis and thighs.

After a series of corrective surgeries, the last of which was performed in January, Chen was finally able to stand and walk normally.

The first steps she took caused tremendous pain because she had not used her lower leg muscles for such a long time. She held back her tears. To her the pain was a blessing and part of her rebirth.

Chen's deformity worried her parents, who are farmers. They sought a remedy while she was still a baby, but their efforts were in vain. Local hospitals were unable to treat the condition.

Growing up, Chen gradually realised she was different from others. With an upbeat personality, she adapted to life, practicing her way of walking. She shrugged off the many minor injuries caused by bumping into things and learned to live with her slow pace of movement.

Chen became involved with various charitable activities whose aim was to help the disabled.

Her attitude impressed the authorities of a school for autistic children in Xiamen, and they later recruited her as an office clerk.

Chen's condition soon attracted wide attention. At the end of 2012, the Xiamen Charity Federation and volunteers from the Tzu Chi Foundation of Taiwan sent her for treatment at Taiwan's Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital.

Several companies in Xiamen donated 200,000 yuan (S$44,110) to help cover the medical bills.

Chen said she never expected she would one day walk like other people. When the opportunity finally came, she told the people who gave her a send-off at the airport that she would "walk back home".

Chen Ing-ho, the doctor in charge of her operations at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, was taken aback by her rare condition. He consulted with other medical experts at the hospital and looked at similar cases throughout the world before deciding on the best form of treatment.

The treatment lasted more than 10 months and involved seven operations. After the surgery, her height increased from 92 cm to 122 cm.

A volunteer from the foundation said Chen Tuanzhi showed admirable fortitude and an optimistic attitude throughout the treatment.

"Chen always smiled at others and never complained about the pain caused by the surgeries," the volunteer said, adding that Chen had to endure several operations involving painful bone-cutting.

Chen's doctor said she was still in agony during the rehabilitation stage, as she went through the process of strengthening the muscles in her legs.

"No matter how much it hurt, Chen would never quit exercising," the doctor said.

Chen said she behaved bravely because she thought the more pain she could endure, the more quickly she could "walk back home".

Walking with the assistance of just one crutch, Chen is now eager to make a contribution to society.

"I received lots of care and love," she said. "I'm very grateful to those who helped and accompanied me. I hope to recover further and keep spreading positive energy."

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