Tuesday, October 7, 2014
As a 12-year-old, Sergio lived the normal life of a boy his age. He was an active child and loved to be outside. One day, while playing and running in an open field with his brother, they both ran into high power wires. Sergio had both his legs severed while his brother lost one. Together they were stranded for two hours before being found. Fortunately, the wires cauterized their wounds and the brothers both survived.
After the loss of his legs, Sergio had a surgery in California, but did not receive the necessary second surgery. The subsequent surgery would have helped Sergio use his prosthetic legs with ease and comfort. It was difficult and painful to walk any distance with the prosthesis he had; for ease of getting around, Sergio had become dependent on a wheelchair.
“With the prosthetics that Sergio had, it takes a lot of energy; especially with the amputation above the knee,” said BayCare Clinic orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Jon Henry.
At age 18, Sergio began work at Foundation for His Ministry, an orphanage in Vicente Guerrero. Among many causes, one of its missions is to assist disabled children, whether orphaned or not, to live a better life. In Vicente Guerrero, children with physical disabilities are not allowed to go to school. At this orphanage, all children are welcome. They provide food, clothing, running water and an education. Now at age 24, Sergio’s work includes refurbishing wheelchairs and bicycles for the disabled children. Sergio resonates with the children because of his own personal experience. “I understand the frustrations of the people that I help. It has helped me to counsel others with their personal problems. I understand them better,” explained Sergio. Each child’s needs are unique and Sergio customizes each project to suit the intended child perfectly.
“He has an innate gift of a mechanical brain,” said Kelly Ray, who was part of a large team instrumental in Sergio’s trip to Wisconsin. Sergio met Kelly’s husband Michael Ray, a physician assistant with Aurora Health Care, while he was serving on the mission at the orphanage. Michael knew he could get Sergio back on his feet with help from his colleague, BayCare Clinic orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Jon Henry.
Coincidentally, Michael and Dr. Henry had met while deployed together in Afghanistan, even though they both lived in Northeast Wisconsin. After hearing Sergio’s story, Dr. Henry readily agreed to help and recruited the help of BayCare Clinic plastic surgeon Dr. Steven C. Schmidt.
In June 2014, after years of effort to bring Sergio to Wisconsin, Dr. Henry and Dr. Schmidt’s joint surgical efforts revised Sergio’s amputations. Neither doctor had met Sergio prior to a few days before the surgery. “An optimal amputation stub requires good soft tissue coverage, and that’s where Dr. Schmidt’s expertise came in perfectly here,” said Dr. Henry.
It was the work of a large community that allowed Sergio to come to the U.S. In addition to the pro-bono surgery, the physical therapy and new prosthetics were also donated. A Sheboygan Falls family opened their home to Sergio for his entire stay and many others touched this story in remarkably generous ways.
A new life
We were able to talk to Sergio almost two months after his surgery. We met a humble man and heard his story with the help of a Spanish translator. “I am so grateful for the care I received, without anyone knowing who I was. It was so unexpected,” said Sergio. His recovery is going well and he is expected to return home within a few weeks.
What’s next for Sergio? “I want to concentrate on my work at the orphanage and I am excited to be able to walk longer distances,” he said. “I’m in a very special place. At the orphanage, I help others, but they really help me.”
Dr. Henry went on to say, “A case like this is special; everyone is going above and beyond to help this man and his quality of life. It’s a privilege to be involved in this effort and it’s a good example of many things in life; there is greater joy in giving than receiving.”