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Adelina Pacheco never thought she'd have to watch her toddler Alan learn to walk twice -- especially before his second birthday. But with tears in her eyes, she choked up when her second child did just that after three long months as a patient at Community Regional Medical Center. Alan's recovery is labeled nothing short of a miracle.
Alan's mom wasn't sure she'd see him take those momentous steps after finding his lifeless body lying on the sidewalk outside her home. A car hit Alan in July 2010 as the toddler ran out in the street. A man got out and moved Alan out of the road before driving away. That's where his mother found him a few moments after the accident. She picked him up and hugged him as she ran to the neighbor's for help.
Alan was rushed to Community Regional in downtown Fresno, which has th only Level 1 trauma center from Los Angeles to Sacramento. There neurosurgeon Meg Verrees operated to save Alan's life. His pinal cord with cruical nerves was not cut, but the jagged spinal bones, which were snapped, had damaged it. The spine had been severed with the upper section resting in front of the rest of his backbone.
Luckily, Alan had immediate access to a specialist like Dr. Verrees and advanced neurosurgical technology that only a few hospitals in the nation possess. Dr. Verrees said it's uncommon for anyone, especially a toddler, to survive such a serious spinal injury.
Clinical staff was calling it "internal decapitation." The car had dragged Alan by the chin, breaking his neck bones. His little head was literally held on by sinew and skin. Dr. Verrees said since the survival rate is so low in this type of injury, little has been written in medical journals -- especially when it comes to treating a young child. With more than 3,000 surgeries logged, Dr. Verrees said this is only the third patient she's treated that survived this type of injury.
The highly skilled neurosurgeon meticulously realigned Alan's neck. Gently she used a traction device but the challenge was to find the right weight to apply for his size. She used three small bags of fluid as weights to gradually straighten Alan's neck. She also surgically placed a plug to fill a gap in his spine that will gradually dissolve and be replace with bone as Alan grows.
For the first three weeks, Alan didn't move. But shortly after, Dr. Verrees saw him reach for his blanket. Everyone was surprised -- and then things got rolling.
A metal device called a halo keeps Alan's spine stabilized during his recovery. Pins are bolted into his skull to prevent damage and the metal is attached to a hard plastic vest that supports his body. Staff from the Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center worked with Alan in Community Regional's pediatrics wing over the last few months. To their surprise he gradually regained movement throughout his body.
After seeing his progress, Dr. Verrees said to stand him on his feet to see what he could do. She was more than surprised.
"He's starting to move his feet ... he's remakable," she said.
Mary Lisa Russell reported this story. She can be reached at email@example.com.