TAMPA — A 3-year-old girl whose legs were amputated because of an infection made it to Miami for treatment earlier this year thanks to reporting by a television journalist in Miami.
But it was Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa that stepped forward with an offer to help fit Alexa with prosthetic devices, and now, her family and a Good Samaritan from Miami are trying to raise money for what could be an extended stay here.
Jacqueline Vidal was horrified to learn about the need for the amputation after daughter Alexa Prieto was taken to be treated for dehydration and gastrointestinal problems at Pediatric Hospital Juan Manuel Márquez in Havana in early June 2015.
The girl, then just 3 months old, developed a dangerous infection in the hospital emergency room and within three days her limbs were severely damaged. Vidal, 42, blames the hospital.
"I could not believe what had happened to my daughter," she said. "Our lives were never the same again."
Earlier this year, while visiting relatives in Cuba, Karen Caballero of Radio and Televisión Martí learned of the Vidal family's plight. Caballero's reports drew an outpouring of help from groups such as Miami Medical Team, Prosthesis Without Borders and the Kiwanis Club.
The United States issued a charitable visa and Alexa was brought to Miami to be examined by medical specialists. She visited Caballero at Radio and Televisión Martí in June.
Armando Quirantes, a Cuban-born prosthesis specialist, took on the task of finding a hospital willing to accept Alexa for treatment. Shriners agreed.
"With them, the path was illuminated," Quirantes said.
Quirantes, 81, has put up Alexa and her mother at his Miami home while he made arrangements with Shriners. He also has been driving them to Tampa and back.
Now the family has to find a place to stay and transportation in Tampa. After surgery, the girl will undergo at least three months of rigorous therapy and rehabilitation as she grows comfortable with her new prosthetic devices and learns to walk for the first time.
"In Tampa, we need the selfless help of the community so that they can stay without any problem," said Quirantes, who has set up an account in Alex's name at GoFundme.com. "I'm sure someone will respond."
Quirantes turned to Shriner's after exhausting all possibilities in Miami. The hospital near the campus of the University of South Florida accepts patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Vidal said her family in Cuba lives in poverty and gets by with the little money her husband Jesús Prieto earns delivering construction materials. The couple has another child, Azal, 4, who is being cared for by her father while Vidal travels with Alexa.
"All of this has been terrible and very painful for our family. But luckily we have an opportunity for my daughter to walk again," Vidal said. "My girl has never walked, and that therapy has to be given to her to see how she evolves with the prostheses that they’re going to put on her."
Alexa has been undergoing tests through Shriner's in preparation for her surgery. The operation will correct growth in a bone that can cause pain and skin damage, later complicating use of a prostheses, said Dr. Maureen J. Maciel, chief of staff at Shriners.
For Alexa, the hardest part will be learning to walk.
"She has never walked before so she has to start with that," Maciel said. "The operation is important, yes, but what will be more complex is the rehabilitation and use of her prosthesis."
Contact Juan Carlos Chavez at [email protected]