When she was 3 months old, Alexa Prieto was admitted to the pediatric hospital in the Marianao section of Havana with a fever and diarrhea. Two days later, she contracted a severe infection, and doctors amputated her legs to save her life.
After four surgeries and unsuccessful attempts to make prostheses for her, the now 3-year-old girl arrived in Miami Thursday with new hope, on a humanitarian visa, for treatment and prostheses that fit.
“This has been a miracle. My dream is to see my girl walk,” her mother, Jacqueline Vidal Torres, said after landing at the Miami International Airport.
Alexa has never stood. Her right leg was amputated above the knee and the left below it. She will have months of rehabilitation, thanks to the Prostesis Sin Frontera foundation headed by orthopedics specialists Dr. Armando Quirantes.
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“About 10 months ago they called me because there was a girl in Havana who had … lost both legs,” Quirantes said, recalling the start of what he called his “commitment” to Alexa's case.
Quirantes will make the prostheses and host Alexa and her mother for as long as the rehabilitation takes, he said.
“It's a very complicated prosthesis, above the knee, but we hope to have her walking in six months,” he said.
Quirantes said he also helped the family in Cuba with money to buy diapers “because they didn't even have money for taking her to the doctors.” He also gathered contributions from other people in Miami which, together with his own donations, paid for all the costs of the trips to Miami by Alexa and her mother.
Before they came, Quirantes has sent prosthetic materials to doctors in Cuba to try making them there.
“The family took her to the hospital and they started to prepare the prostheses, but they couldn't do it perfectly. She got blisters and could not adapt. Luckily, the damage was not permanent,” he said.
Alexa's mother said the Cuban-made prostheses “did not have the quality needed for a 3-year-old girl.”
Vidal Torres said her daughter was the victim of “medical negligence” at the Marianao hospital because it did not have a specialist in the circulatory system.
“Her feet were completely black at one point. She had no circulation,” the mother said, and the doctors had to amputate the legs.
She added that the family also did not receive proper assistance after the hospital. “We live in a very narrow house and it's difficult for her to talk around it with her prosthesis. I said that two years ago, and I've had no reply,” the mother said.
Quirantes established Prostesis sin Fronteras 50 years ago to help people who could not afford orthopedic or prosthetic equipment. He has brought children to Miami for treatment, and traveled to help others in countries like Angola and Nicaragua.
Eugenio Hernández, a lawyer with the Coral Gables firm of Avila, Rodríguez, Hernández, Mena and Ferri, volunteered his help to obtain the humanitarian visas for Alexa and her mother.
Other Miami physicians, including Dr. Manuel Alzugaray, head of the Miami Medical Team, will also help Alexa.
Vidal Torres said she was “very excited that my daughter will leave Miami walking.”
“She's a very active girl. She says she's coming to the United States to walk just like her brother, who is 4 years old,” the mother said. Quirantes said he was optimistic about Alexa's prognosis, even though the rehabilitation process will be lengthy.
“When she's 14 or 15 years old she will be able to walk with more modern prosthesis, but for now our goal is to let her be able to be self-sufficient,” he said.