Australia

Australia offers life-changing surgery to PNG teenager so she can walk again

Sonia Paua has a rare degenerative bone disease. Source: SBS News

Sonia Paua is closer to being able to walk again thanks to a team of Australian surgeons.

At the age of seven, Sonia Paua was diagnosed with chronic osteomyelitis, a rare degenerative bone disease.

She underwent several surgeries but was left with one leg shorter than the other, leaving her mobility severely limited.

"I used to feel bad. I used to feel sad. I used to feel worried. Why is my leg like this? I should be like normal kids," she told SBS News.

Now the years of pain could soon be behind her.

Sonia Paua
The teenager will spend months in recovery.
SBS News

The Papua New Guinean teenager has been brought by the Children First Foundation charity to Australia, where surgeons will work to prevent the condition of her leg deteriorating any further.

The team will be led by orthopedic surgeon Dr Minoo Patel at Melbourne's Epworth Hospital.

"The bottom line is, she has got a femur that is all sort of bowed and squiggly, and importantly, short and deformed, and therefore she is not able to put her leg down," he said.

Having missed two years of school as a child, the 19-year-old - who wants to one day become a doctor - is now excelling in the classroom.

But with her condition, the daily walk home can long and physically demanding.

"I just stand, walk, stand, walk, wait for the pain to go away and then walk on. But I'm thankful for my little sister because she helps me carry my bag," she said. 

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Dr Patel said the planned three-and-a-half-hour operation would involve re-aligning her leg and inserting a cutting-edge device that would gradually lengthen the bone by a millimetre every day.

“The femur is deformed but the tibia is in good congruence with the femur so the idea is that if we can get that straight, if we can get the leg down to size, she should be able to walk."

The complex procedure is scheduled to be conducted in two weeks time, but it could take up to six months of recovery and rehabilitation before Sonia is able to return to her homeland - time she will spend in hospital and then at the foundation's retreat in country Victoria.

Retreat manager Deb Pickering said in its 20 years of operation, it had hosted 400 children from overseas who had been brought to Australia for urgent treatment they would otherwise never receive.

"We have got a beautiful physio room here which we are very lucky to have. We have got a physiotherapist that comes to visit us and then the intense rehab starts."

It's a challenging road ahead for Sonia but she is determined. 

"It's worth it. I will do it, no matter how hard. I want to walk again," she said. 

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