Bolivian woman gets life changing surgery in Detroit - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Bolivian woman gets life changing surgery in Detroit

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By Deena Centofanti
Fox 2 News


DETROIT (WJBK) -- Mariluz Arteaga speaks no English, but her smile spoke volumes.  With help from her translator, she knew she was about to have surgery that would give her a life she never imagined.

Arteaga's painful journey began when she was just five years old living in extreme poverty in a Bolivian village.  A cooking accident caused a serious burn on her left foot.  It was especially traumatic because Arteaga was born with spina bifida, which caused her right foot to be deformed.

Her family had no money and no access to care, so for 17 long years she endured a chronic infection in her left foot, which left her virtually unable to walk.

Metro Detroit doctors Kim and Jeff Getzinger met Arteaga on a missionary trip.

"The day we met her, we saw how bad her foot was and what a sweet person she is, and I sort of put myself in her place and said if I was her in Bolivia, I would like some person to come and help me," said Kim Getzinger.

Help her they did.  After months of wrangling, Arteaga came to the United States.

"This was a terrible, chronic infection that had been smoldering for 17 years, and two of the bones in her foot had totally disappeared as a result of the infection," said St. John orthopedic surgeon Christopher Lee.

Dr. Lee amputated her left leg below the knee.  There was no other way to get rid of the enduring infection.  The surgery took about half an hour and went well.

Just one day later, Arteaga was trying to smile through the pain as Ryan Filippis began the process of preparing her for her new leg.  Raised in a dirt hut, she had never seen a prosthetic limb.

"We had one of our employees come in and kind of walk for her, and her eyes lit up," said Filippis.

"After she saw him be able to walk... she was amazed, and she knew she could do it," Kim Getzinger said.

The healing will take months, and for the orphan, who has fended for herself for so long, this is remarkable.  She's living with the Getzingers and their three children, who have wasted no time in making her part of the family.  She is even in their family Christmas card.  Her translator, Beatrice, is always by her side, and she has a team rooting for her.

The goal is to help Arteaga realize her dream of one day being able to dance.

"I want to learn how to read and someday I want to dance, and that was her dream, so we want to get her up and walking and maybe get her dancing," said Kim Getzinger.

In Bolivia, education is seen as a luxury.

There are dozens of people who have made this happen for Arteaga, including St. John Providence Health System, Wright and Filippis and all of those involved with the mission.  Right now she is in rehab and walking with a walker, so she is doing really well.  We're going to track her progress in the upcoming weeks.

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Those wishing to make a donation to the Mari Luz Arteaga Pone Education and Medical Fund can do so through the Keep the Faith Bolivia mission.  Their website is www.keepthefaithinbolivia.org.

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