'Miraculous' baby Charlotte measured up for new limbs

By REBECCA WALSH

Twice a day Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman sits on the floor as physiotherapists encourage her to reach for toys with her bandaged limbs.

Next, she lies on her stomach to help stretch the muscles in her amputated legs.

Less than a week after leaving Starship children's hospital, the 8-month-old meningococcal disease survivor has started on the long road to rehabilitation.

Doctors have described her recovery as miraculous and her parents, Pam Cleverley and Perry Bisman, are now concentrating on working towards key milestones such as walking.

Charlotte, who had her legs and arms partly amputated, was measured for artificial limbs this week.

Starship orthopaedic surgeon Stewart Walsh said lower limbs were fitted first to ensure children could stand and become mobile.

Upper limbs were fitted later but children often resisted using them.

"Your hand has sensation ... you could have a zillion-dollar hand that can play the piano but you still don't like it because you can't feel things with it."

Mr Walsh said the way children adapted and got on with life amazed those around them. A child might use a limb for activities such as bike-riding but find it was no good for catching a ball.

Later in life, many amputees found it easier to get about in a wheelchair.

Sometimes children who had limbs amputated after meningococcal disease needed more operations to straighten and lengthen their limbs as they could grow crookedly, he said.

Plastic surgeon Tristan de Chalain said children adapted better than adults to artificial limbs.

"It's something to do with the plasticity of the child's nervous system and their potential."

The attitudes of adults around them also made a difference, he said.

An artificial leg has not stopped 3 1/2-year-old Haley Davoren, of Gisborne, getting on with life.

She lost her nose, her right leg above the knee and part of her buttocks to meningococcal disease three years ago. She spent six months in hospital and has undergone about 30 operations.

"She's very independent and outgoing," said her mother, Harriet Birch.

Haley has been fitted with new legs to keep pace with her growth. An orthopaedic surgeon visits Gisborne and the new limb is sent in the post.

"She wasn't too keen on the leg to begin with ... but now she doesn't go without it."


Herald Feature: Meningococcal Disease

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