By Benjamin Flowers
The record for the longest walk around the world is held by former neon sign salesman, Jean Beliveau. He walked 46,600 miles around 64 countries. It took him 11 years to do it all.
Walking is viewed by some as a chore or a bother, while others view it as relaxing or recreational. Science reveres walking as one of the simplest exercises which carries innumerable benefits.
For 10-year-old Stephany Quiñones of Belize, walking has become one of the greatest challenges of her life, testing her strength with each step.
Quiñones almost completely lost her ability to walk in November 2014 after an iron gate toppled and fell on her as she was trying to close it. The impact shifted two of the vertebrae in her spine, causing what is known as Spondylolisthesis.
Spondylolisthesis is where the spinal chord becomes squeezed in between the two vertebrae that have shifted, the end result: numbness in the legs, decrease in mobility and pain in the back.
Once an avid football player, the standard four student at San Francisco Roman Catholic School could not return to school after the accident, as she was unable to move around on her own.
The spinal system is made up of bones, tenduns, ligaments and nerves. The spine itself has three main segments: the cervical, thoracic, and the lumbar.
The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae in the upper part of the spine, known as the neck. The thoracic spine is the center part of the spine, made up of 12 vertebrae. The lumbar spine is the lower portion of the spine which can have five or six vertebrae, depending on the individual.
Below the lumbar spine is the sacrum, which is actually a group of specialized vertebrae that connects the spine to the pelvis. Before birth, these vertebrae grow together (fuse) creating one large “specialized” bone that forms the base of your spine and center of your pelvis.
According to Dr. Javier Dupuy, a neurologist at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital and Coordinator for the Belize Spine Program, the accident displaced the spine at the Lumbar 5 Sacrum 1 (L5S1) location.
“There are four grades of this kind of injury, and she has the level four,” Dupuy said. The vertebrae has moved almost 100 percent.”
Dupuy added that they suspect Quiñones had some previous displacement and the gate only served to make it worse. He explained that in cases where a patient receives level four displacement due to trauma, the patient usually becomes a paraplegic.
The Belize Spine Program, run by the KHMH, is a special collaboration between the hospital and the international organization, Spine Overseas (SOS). Through the cooperation, SOS sends orthopedic surgeons to Belize twice a year, in January and August, to perform specialized spinal surgeries which would otherwise be unavailable in Belize due to non-availability of equipment and expertise, as well as the prohibitively high cost.
Patients who have varying spinal problems are referred by their clinics or physicians to Dr. Dupuy who then evaluates the problem. If the patient meets the criteria, he or she is placed on the list for surgery when the team makes its visit.
Having evaluated Quiñones’ case and approved her for surgery, on January 13 doctors spent seven hours to rebuild her spine as best they could.
Doctors shifted the vertebra back into position as far as they could, a process called “decompression”. However to prevent further damage, the doctors had to “fixate” the spine by screwing special screws and metal rods into it to keep the bones in place.
Doctors explained that though the screws and rods will remain a permanent fixture in her spine, considering her age, the rods will only impede between one and 1.5 centimeters of growth.
“The prognosis is good,” Dupuy said. “She will need lots of physical therapy but in a few weeks she will walk on her own again.”
One step at a time
Days after the surgery, The Reporter spoke with Quiñones to get her thoughts on the surgery and the challenge ahead. Courageously, she spoke of the anxiety she felt going into surgery at her age, and how she dealt with the anxiety.
“Well I pray everyday,” she said confidently, recounting that after the surgery she had been in continuous pain.
“I just kept on trying and trying because I know the day will come when I will walk again.”
She added that for those suffering with spinal issues, be they trauma or hereditary, they should take the first step and get themselves evaluated. She also encouraged them to take all the steps necessary to get through their surgery and back on their feet.