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Stronger Bonds, Brighter Future

Surgery wasn’t the first thing Hannah needed from the St. Louis Shriners Hospital

Hannah arrived in the United States on Christmas Eve last year, held in the arms of her new adoptive parents, Deanne and Matt.

She stepped into a family filled with love, Christmas traditions and new siblings – three, to be exact – more than 8,000 miles from the orphanage in India she had called home.

It wasn’t long before the now nearly 3-year-old girl became part of another family, the Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis family. It was all thanks to Matt’s uncle, Shriner Jerry D’Agostino. “We were still in the adoption process when we told Jerry about Hannah’s condition, and he told us right away we should be going to Shriners Hospital for care,” Matt said.

Surgery can wait

That condition is called amniotic band syndrome, which is caused when strands of the amniotic sac separate and entangle fingers, toes, limbs or other parts of the developing baby. In Hannah’s case, the strands severely damaged her right leg.

Less than three months after her arrival, Hannah, Deanne and Matt met with J. Eric Gordon, M.D., one of the country’s leading pediatric orthopaedic leg deformity specialists. Because of the severity of Hannah’s condition, the family needed to consider amputation. But Dr. Gordon stepped out of his surgeon role to meet the greater needs of his patients – not just Hannah but her entire family.

“He talked to us out of his experience seeing other parents of newly adopted children,” Deanne said. “He gave us the options for medical treatment, yes, but he also told us that amputation didn’t need to happen right now, that what was more important was Hannah becoming lovingly attached to us and us to her.”

The doctor’s prescription? Love.

“For lots of kids who are adopted, the big issue they face is realizing that they now have a mom and a dad who care about them,” Dr. Gordon said. “A lot of the procedures we do have at least some pain. So my advice is to wait until the child has a bond to mom and dad so they can perceive that the procedures are being done for them, not to them.”

At that first appointment, the medical team gave Hannah a walker and sent the family home to, well, be a family. Instead of trying to prepare themselves and their new daughter for surgery, they spent the next seven months making memories.

Sidewalk chalk, mini-golf games and backyard fun replaced anxiety over impending surgery. Ice pops dripping in the hot summer sun, trips to the zoo and scooter rides became the backdrops for hugs, kisses and smiles with her new parents and siblings.

By the time amputation was scheduled for Oct. 21, Hannah was very much the loved and loving daughter of Deanne and Matt, the adored sibling of Luke, 7, Eden, 5, and Lydia, 3.

Advantages of amputation

When Hannah awoke from surgery, a donated toy from a Shriners Hospital supporter was at the end of her bed – and next to her was Mom, ready with a hug.

Hannah has recovered as most kids do, even from major surgeries. She’s already bounding around the house and climbing up playground equipment – and she has yet to be fitted with what will be her first prosthetic leg.

“The kids who do best with amputations are the kids who have supportive families,” Dr. Gordon said. “Hannah has that.”

Deanne and Matt did a good job of putting amputation in the proper perspective, the physician said.

“There are some major advantages to amputation in some situations, like with Hannah,” he said. “You can do basically one bigger operation and have a stump that’s there to fit with a prosthetic to make it a fully functioning leg. You don’t go through the pain of surgery after surgery trying to save a foot that will never allow that child to have a fully functioning leg.”

‘An enabling thing’

And so Christmas nears along with Hannah’s first anniversary with her forever family. She will be a welcomed addition to the traditions that make the family a family – the cookie baking, the dancing to Christmas songs, the birthday cake for Jesus they eat for Christmas breakfast.

Dr. Gordon imagines Hannah might one day be at the gatherings he attends of former patients who thank him for how he has helped them live what they see as completely normal lives.

“Amputation is not a disabling thing,” he said. “It’s an enabling thing.” 

Hannah with mom

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