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Tough Case-- How Docs Got Shen Up and Walking

8:01 AM, May 2, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When Shen first met Dr. Eric Loveless, he squatted on the floor, opened his arms wide, and said, "I'm the guy who's going to fix your knees!"

Turns out Dr. Loveless, an orthopedic surgeon at Nemours, did exactly that -- and much more.

He fixed her feet and her hands. He figured out how to help a little girl, who crawled on the ground for 12 years, stand up and start walking for the first time in her life.

Ten years ago folks all over Jacksonville fell in love with Shen, who never even thought there was hope she could walk. 

We met Shen in Grenada with the medical group C.H.O.R.E.S.

Dr. Loveless did multiple surgeries on Shen at Wolfson Children's Hospital.  He says he chose to stretch her muscles, rather than cut into bones.

He put a circular metal frame around her legs and inserted at least 18 thick pins and screws into her bones.

It was especially difficult because Shen was so skinny, malnourished from a very low income life in Grenada.

In fact, Shen to this day has an extra large hole in the back of her right thigh because one of the screws broke a bone.  But -- despite how fragile it was -- the bone healed and Dr. Loveless continued with his plan.

He admits it wasn't "in the books" but, he says, you just "have to go for it."  He was concerned his plan wouldn't work.  But it did.

Dr. Loveless explains that Shen was born with a muscle contraction problem called arthrogryposis.  He says, "The muscles just don't work. They're more like fibrous, grisly tissue as opposed to a functional muscle that contracts and expands.  It just sits there."

Her knees were bent into an "L" shape.  She couldn't straighten them at all.

She had huge calluses on the back of her hands because she crawled with her hands upside down rubbing along rough roads.

Her feet were so bent she couldn't balance on them in any sort of standing position.

Dr. Loveless operated on both her feet and hands.  Shen says the calluses "just vanished like magic."  Over time the "humps" on her hands have gone away because she's walking and not crawling.

The toughest part, though, was fixing Shen's legs.  Ten years ago Dr. Loveless looked at video we took in Grenada and agreed the surgeries could work based on two basic observations.

First, Shen's hips worked.  That was crucial to her ability to walk

Second, Dr. Loveless could see she has an incredible spunk.  That was necessary to make it through the painful medical procedures.

Shen's physical therapist, Debbie Sells, would turn the screws in Shen's legs several times a day for months. 

Shen would cry.  Sometimes Debbie would cry.  But the two worked out special "hand squeezes" to cope. 

Now Shen calls Debbie her "mom" because they're so close and Shen's own mother has died.

Dr. Loveless says Debbie's expert physical therapy care was a huge reason Shen can walk today.

Shen calls Dr. Loveless "my Dr. Loveless" because she adores him. In fact, he's promising a return trip to Grenada to see Shen again.

Shen says she prays and thanks God that she can walk and that the people of Jacksonville helped her.

Shen can walk well enough to go up steep hills.  She needs help, though, getting up and down stairs if there's no railing to grasp.

If you'd like to send a card to encourage Shen, just drop it off at the First Coast News studios on 1070 E. Adams across from where the Jaguars play.

If you'd like to help Shen with her new business, you can give nail polish or clothing accessories. 

If you have a group wanting to help, we'd love to recognize you on the news.  Just send photos to Jeannie Blaylock at

First Coast News

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