Children are by far braver than adults, this is a fact. None braver than little Angelique Schroder from Pietermaritzburg. After being born without a left hand, and with most of her fingers missing on the right hand, the 4 year old has just become one of the youngest patients in South Africa to undergo a successful microvascular foot to hand transfer. In layman’s terms: her toe is now a functioning digit on her hand.
The story of her journey is one of courage and determination. The day she was born came as a shock to both her parents and the doctors, who didn’t pick up any clues in the womb about the congenital condition affecting her limb. As far as the doctors were concerned, Dirk and Anna could expect a 100% healthy, normal baby girl.
Her father Dirk says one of the doctors couldn’t even come back into the delivery room, so big was the shock. The delivery room went silent. After the initial trauma, Dirk says they sprang into action.
They started googling what could be done, and Dirk’s father contacted a plastic surgeon friend in the USA. The American doctor contacted the Red Cross in the States, who in turn contacted the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s hospital in Cape Town.
It was Dr. Mark van der Velde that first gave the family hope, and today he is their hero.
Angelique’s first surgery was when she was just 6 months old. It was to augment her right middle and ring fingers. At just over 1 year of age Dr van der Velde performed a third bone graft to then lengthen her thumb. All of these small bone grafts helped to lengthen the little she had and gave her a very basic fine pinch grasp.
The recent operation was painstakingly planned by Dr van der Velde. During the 11 hour operation using 4 surgeons, the team successfully built a pinkie finger for Angelique from one of her toes.
Dirk says his daughter was at first nervous after the operation at seeing the bandages on both her foot and hand, but now she is loving the new addition, and he says she is excited by the fact that she now has a finger nail to paint.
In the next few months she will work with occupational therapists and should start moving the finger and grasping large objects between the new reconstruction and her bone lengthened thumb.
Dirk is realistic about Angelique’s path ahead.
“She has constantly amazed us, doing things that we can’t even do with one hand. She’s determined and excited, but we have a lot of hurdles to cross over the next few years.”
Dirk has expressed his extreme gratitude for Dr van der Velde and the doctors at Red Cross, and he’s also hoping this surgery will give other families, whose children have similar conditions, hope.
He says with technology changing so rapidly, there is the possibility that Angelique might be fitted with a robotic left hand, once she becomes a teenager. And the missing toe, which is now her pinkie finger, has not phased Angelique in the least.
“She’s jumping, running, walking, she even does ballet, and it hasn’t stopped her at all.”
If Angelique’s determination is anything to go by, nothing is going to ever stand in her way. A lesson for many adults, I would say.