Everyone around Luis was walking.
For his entire life, something that came so easily to other people had been one of the most difficult things he had to manage, and a constant source of frustration. Luis had acutely disfigured knees with a severe valgus deformity, or condition in which his bones angled outward (laterally) from his midline where they attached at the joint. Luis’s legs were so deformed that if he were to place a basketball between his thighs, the ball wouldn’t stay put.
When Luis got the opportunity to have his knees fixed by the Operation Walk Carolinas team during a trip to his home country of Panama, he jumped at the chance. His surgical and therapy teams nicknamed him Superman for his mental and physical grit and his intensely strong focus on getting better. Luis was proud of his superhero title, and even the language barrier wasn’t enough to keep him from joking around about his powers with the OpWalk team.
It had been a long road to get to that operating room. Luis’s case was, preoperatively, one of the most challenging cases the team had ever encountered in terms of severity. He received a simultaneous bilateral knee replacement surgery, undergoing resurfacing of both knees under the guidance of Dr. Walt Beaver, to help restore the weight-bearing façade of his damaged knee joints. It was a difficult surgery, and it would take superhuman strength to battle back from the kryptonite that had plagued him all his life.
Many hip and knee replacement patients are able to practice walking the same day as their surgery or shortly thereafter, but that wasn’t the case for Luis. His surgery had been intense, and as much as he was ready to leap tall buildings with a single bound, he would need more time for recovery. It wasn’t easy for him to be patient. Every patient around him seemed to be walking, and it took two therapists just to hold him up.
Luis told his medical team that felt discouraged and embarrassed, though he did his best to stay positive and worked as hard as he could in the days following his surgery. As he practiced standing, supported by therapists, other patients and OpWalk team members would cheer him on. He wanted so badly to stand…and eventually walk…on his own two feet again.
Like Superman, he was getting stronger and more powerful with time.
The OpWalk team had to leave to go home while Luis was still non-ambulatory, which was difficult, but they knew they were leaving him in the skilled hands of local therapists who had been on the ground training with them since the day they arrived.
Months later a video arrived by email. It was Luis, with straight legs, walking down the sidewalk like he’d done it every day of his life. He wore a USA t-shirt, his symbolic cape perhaps, and pointed to it as a nod at his medical team. He also wore a big smile. Far behind him on the sidewalk sat the quad cane. He didn’t need it anymore.
“There is a superhero in all of us, we just need the courage to put on the cape.” — Superman