My Cerebral Palsy Story

My obsession with shoes started when I was just three years old. I slipped my hands through the shoes and began to crawl from room to room on my hands and knees. Thirty nine years ago, I was born two and a half months premature. I weighed only two pounds thirteen ounces – the size of a baby chicken! I stayed in an incubator for almost two months. My family was so excited when I finally came home.

When I was eight months old, my mom stood me up on a table to change me. She noticed that if she did not hold on to me, I would wobble from side to side. I stood on the tips of my toes. I could not rest my feet flat on the floor. Lacking balance, I rarely took a step without holding on to something. My parents began to worry. They wondered why I was not walking. They took me to my pediatrician; he thought I had weak ankles. Nearly two years passed. I still was not walking on my own. My parents knew something was wrong. At 28 months, they took me for a neurological evaluation at Variety Children’s Hospital in Miami. The Director of Child Neurology informed my parents that I had (spastic diplegia) cerebral palsy (CP). The doctor told my mom I would never be a ballerina. Then he asked with a smile, “how many ballerinas do you know?” How ironic since I stood on my toes! The doctor told my parents not to force me to walk; he said I would walk when I was ready.

I grew into a happy little girl with big, brown eyes and dark hair. Each day, I discovered a new pair of shoes. I had a blast crawling around the house with my hands in shoes, which became my symbol of hope because I could not do the one thing I wanted to do most – walk. I knew I was not ready to walk on my feet, so I found another way to accomplish my goal. I did not walk like everyone else. What mattered is that I found a way to walk. All I had to do was put my hands in the shoes and go! I learned at a very young age how far I could go in life just by being determined. Looking back, I realize I probably did not even think about what I did. I knew I wanted to walk. And, I did – in my unique way.

I spent the first four and a half years of my life walking in other people’s shoes. I desperately wanted to walk in my own. On January 11, 1978, an orthopedic surgeon lengthened the Achilles tendons in my legs. The operation changed my life forever. However, the change did not happen right away. I stayed in the hospital for four days with casts up to my thighs. I remember lying still and feeling itchy. I could not wait to go home! Finally, I went home in a wheelchair. I learned to walk with my own two feet – something I had never done before. I would stand stiff against the wall staring at a brother or sister who stood across from me encouraging me to take my first steps. I was scared. Everyone in my family wanted me to walk. I didn’t move. This went on for some time.

My mom took me to the doctor for a follow up visit and expressed her concern. He looked at her straight in the eye and said, “she should not be walking at all. She is a miracle.” Learning to walk without assistance was not easy. First, I wore braces up to my knees. Then, just in time for Kindergarten, I wore full-length hip braces. As you can imagine, the other kids teased me constantly.

Eventually, I learned to walk on my own. Now, as an adult, I am experiencing problems associated with CP and the constant stress on my body. I tire easily when walking. If I walk too much, I can experience back pain. I have problems stepping up curbs with my right leg – something I never had problems doing until five years ago. This continued to be a such a problem that I asked my orthopedist for a cane. I couldn’t bring myself to use it. I could continue to have these problems and more as I age, possibly requiring the use of a wheelchair. I do not want this to happen to me!

Although I work out and try to stay active, my balance and flexibility are poor due to CP and the tightness (spasticity) it causes. Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) is the only procedure that can permanently eliminate the tightness in my legs. This surgery will allow me to do things I’ve never even imagined – walk with greater ease and fluidity, have better balance and flexibility – just to name a few. One thing I’d love to do is ride a bike. SDR may make that possible!

Please consider making a donation so I can raise the money to have SDR next March. Time is of the essence because it is recommended that I have the surgery before I turn 40. Thank you for your donation. Every cent counts!

Nicole Luongo


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