Overcoming Disability: Girl born with half limb learns to dance ballet, run, kick, play like other children
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An orthopaedic breakthrough has given eight-year-old Beulah Chinemerem Oreoluwade Chigbu, the first child of Mr. and Mrs. Azubuike Chigbu, a new lease of life by helping her to overcome the adversity that beset her from the womb.
Beulah was born without the tibia (the long bone below the knee) of her right leg, which did not form during gestation in the womb. This left the pretty little girl partially deformed. It also caused
her parents and herself a prolonged period of psychological pain and agony until a medical solution was implemented which involved amputation of the improperly formed lower part of the limb and fitting of an advanced prosthetic limb to the upper part of her leg.
Admirably, she has learnt to live a normal life and do other things which she was previously unable
to do and which her age mates took for granted because they had two complete legs. Today, the unbreakable spirit of Beulah, the abundant grace of God, the overflowing, unstinting love and enormous support of her parents have all enabled her learn ballet dancing.
She is now able to run and kick. When she wears jeans trousers and sneakers like other little children of her age, you could never imagine that under the elegant denim jeans is a prosthetic right leg.
In some sense, Beulah is also showing that she has the sassy spunk of a child model, judging by the pose she struck in the picture on this page, showing her prosthetic limb in all its glory, and she seems to say, “Thank you, Oh Lord, for giving me a new beginning; you never left me forsaken.”
Beulah is a positive proof that life is not about how complete one is but how the mind rather works.
Today, the girl whose mother revealed has a natural love for dancing now participates in all social activities.
Her vibrant young mother, Mrs. Crystal Chigbu, who runs an online show called HopeGrill says
of her daughter: “We have never allowed her leg issue to limit her for any reason. Even before we
travelled for the amputation, we educated and sought her permission as young as she was then. I
watch her with amazement as she grows from a child into a young girl.
My daughter naturally loves to dance. All the activities she participates in school are all dancing-related. She belongs to dance clubs. So, when I noticed that I put her in a ballet class, but her teacher gives her more attention because of her leg condition. What she added recently is to ride a bicycle and has also learnt how to support her left leg firmly.
She does not face any form of challenge as far as I know; her schoolmates are already used to her. She is very okay and we are happy and proud of her.
Can she run with her limb?
Yes, she can run the much she can. You cannot expect her to run as fast as her mates who have complete legs.”
In a chat with Sunday Sun, Beulah’s mother opened up on the young girl’s travail: “Immediately
I delivered her in a hospital in Enugu, the leg was turned to the back with just a chunk of flesh and the knee area looked somehow. The doctors told us that there was an issue; my heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t understand what the issue was and so I asked, ‘Is the child still alive?’ When she was brought in after the normal cleaning up, I wept like David did in the Bible at Ziglag, until there was no strength left in me. It was a painful sight. Tears and bitterness did not restore her legs and the journey for solution started immediately.
“First we went for series of X-ray. We were in and out of the consulting room of the orthopaedic doctor. It was a sad experience; it gave us so much concern, including our families, spiritual members and leaders. I prayed and cried from the day that I delivered thinking and hoping that one day her leg would suddenly grow out to become normal, but it did not. Everybody within and around us supported us even though they were equally devastated and disturbed.”
Continuing the narration, she said: “Our parents who were expecting in high spirits the birth of their grandchild could not express their feelings boldly because of the circumstances surrounding the birth of my daughter, Beulah. But in all we give God all the glory.
“We were told her leg needed to be amputated. Between my husband and I, that decision was a hard pill to swallow. Back then, a lot went through my mind. I asked myself severally why a child given birth to normally, that was not involved in any form of accident, both road or air mishap, would suddenly be wheeled into a theatre of the hospital for amputation of the leg.
The trauma became heavier for us but we had God on our side and supportive families.
“The moment all members of the family agreed to amputate, my husband and I went into a lot of
research trying to understand whether we were taking the right decision for her.
We also tried to understand what happened and asked a lot of questions from all available doctors that came our way but we were told that the deformity was not a frequent occurrence. We were not
very sure if amputating her leg was the right thing to do. We were still in a state of shaky faith as humans, but finally we travelled out of the country, made a whole lot of research just
to make sure all of us would not regret our decision at last.
Before we had the amputation, we asked Beulah questions to hear her out. We also educated her. ‘Is it okay if we remove the bad part of the leg and get you a prosthetic leg that would aid you to walk, jump and play? She agreed because she used to crawl then. All of us agreed, got psychologically
prepared and we went for the amputation. It was finally done when she was two; it got filled up,
healed properly and she was given an artificial leg.”
As would be expected, when the deformity was observed, Mrs. Chigbu was unhappy and pondered why this happened to her.
“Was there anything I did not do right when I was pregnant? I am sure I adhered to all my ante-natal care essentials. Was it my fault? What didn’t I get right as a mother?” but no comforting answers were forthcoming.
As Sunday Sun further learnt from her, she did not at any time take any traditional or herbal
formulations along with the normal ante-natal drugs prescribed by her orthodox doctor. All through the period before delivery, the deformity was not discovered during the various ultra-sound scans she had during ante-natal care.
“Today, after eight years, Beulah is a happy girl. Before the amputation was carried out, she
was already in school but only sat in one place. Her teachers helped out when there was need. She is fully aware of what happened and can talk about it herself.
When she wants to retire to her bed, she removes the leg, drops it near her and fixes it on her own when she needs to get up. In her school, she dances ballet and the leg does not limit her from anything that other children are doing.
“Sometimes when she was younger, she used to feel bad see- ing other children in school with
complete legs. Then she would come back and ask when her own leg would grow back. I will tell her
that the leg would not grow back because it was artificial. I would tell her that she could do every-
thing with it.”
As she grows up the prosthetic limb would need to be changed to accord with her height and weight. Beulah has become so properly adjusted she has stopped asking why her leg is different from those of her brothers. More importantly, the parents never hid her from the public or hid the state of her leg.
On this score, her mother told Sunday Sun: “I took time to educate her and she is fully aware
of what happened to her. There is no evidence that this incident happened previously in the ancestry of the family. It is just our luck that it happened. Science has proved that it is a chance occurrence that happens once in millions of pregnancies.
I want to believe we managed her well because her happiness is our joy. She is a happy girl now
and lives life to the fullest without having any limitation or excuse. We did not want to face risks
of embarrassment or a situation where she would be shying away from her friends and classmates.
We are grateful to God that we achieved our goal.” Against this backdrop and coupled with the fact that whenever she went to the hospital with her daughter for check-up, Chigbu would see other children that had the same challenge. The urge to assist arose in them as a couple.
Beulah’s parents decided to open ‘Irede Foundation’ through which they could reach out to other people with similar issues.
“Basically, ‘Irede Foundation’ is focused on ensuring that we are able to educate the society and often put a support system by providing the artificial leg after a child has been diagnosed and
amputated. The foundation does not carry out surgeries rather it assists children between the ages
of 0-18 with prosthetic hands and legs.
We could support with calipers and walking aids to assist a child to walk. Meanwhile the foundation is six years and ready to celebrate.
The goal is to give child amputees a voice in the society, encourage them, avoid discrimination and also make the public know that being an amputee is not a death sentence. Amputee children can live self-sufficient and fulfilled lives.
The big picture is to advocate, inform and educate,” Mrs. Chigbu said.