These incredible before and after photos show the transformation of a teenager who was given free surgery to correct her extremely bowed legs.
14-year-old Valerie—who surgeons declined to fully name—developed bowed legs at the age of four and had such low self-confidence, she convinced her parents to pull her out of school.
She joined her uncle’s tailoring shop as an apprentice and worked hard, despite the fact that her harshly-angled legs arched outwards from her hips, making it difficult for her to walk.
The talented seamstress was busy sewing when a customer told her that a hospital boat operated by the charity Mercy Ships had docked near her West African home in Cotonou, Benin.
Mercy Ships operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing humanitarian aid for terminally-ill patients. It has operated in more than 57 developing nations and 18 developed nations around the world, with a current focus on African countries.
Valerie boarded the charity’s ship Africa Mercy and was one of 76 children and teenagers to receive free surgery during the boat’s 10-month stint.
During her knee operation, surgeons removed a wedge of bone from the outside of both her knees, causing her legs to bend inward. Since Valerie was in post-surgery rehab for about four months, she spent all of her recovery time learning how to read.
Now that her bow-leggedness has been corrected by the surgery and months of physical therapy, she can walk, run, and fulfill her plans for returning to school.
“I was desperate to learn how to read. A friend onboard gave me a few alphabet pages for me to trace—and the next day I told her I needed more to read!” said Valerie.
“Not long after then, my legs were strong enough for me to go home. I was very happy. I told myself—‘I no longer want to be a seamstress! I want to go back to school!’”
Bow-leggedness is a deformity marked by outward bowing at the knee, which gives the limb the appearance of an archer’s bow. The chief cause is rickets, but it can also be caused by skeletal problems, infections, and tumors.
Although Valerie did not disclose the cause of her condition, she cannot contain her excitement over returning to school.
“School will be great,” she added. “People will say—‘Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight’!”
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