Physician gives South African boy hope of walking

By By LINDSAY KNAKE

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — Bright-eyed 2-year-old Andre de Guisti marches down a hallway with his walker.

With continued physical therapy, the South African toddler may be able to walk unaided one day. It's a future he may never have had without the help of a Saginaw Township surgeon, MLive.com reported (http://bit.ly/ZU5ppA ).

Andre, who turns 3 in February, was born with both hips dislocated from their sockets and other leg problems. Finding appropriate medical care was difficult for his parents, Amore and Dino de Guisti of Alberton, South Africa.

That journey brought the family 8,524 miles in 2010 to Saginaw County to see Dr. Anthony DeBari, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopaedic Center of Mid-Michigan.

Andre was born with sacral agenesis, a disorder that affects the development of the lower spine and pelvis. Along with his hip problem, Andre had contracted knees and his nerves didn't extend to his feet, DeBari said.

The de Guisti family saw more than 10 orthopedic surgeons in South Africa and were told there was nothing the physicians could do except amputate, Dino de Guisti said.

But then the family learned Dr. Arno Weiss, a plastic surgeon from Saginaw, was visiting in their country. The de Guistis met with him, and Weiss put the family in contact with DeBari, who specialists in pediatric orthopedics.

After seeing photos and video, DeBari determined he could help the boy. Within months, the family came to Saginaw. Three days later, DeBari operated.

Amore de Guisti said she was surprised with the quick timeline, but the family was excited for their son to have the care he needed. In a two-hour surgery, DeBari and Covenant HealthCare's operating team put Andre's hips back in place and lengthened tendons in his knees and toes.

The family stayed with the Weiss family for two months, much longer than the two-week visit the de Guisti's originally had anticipated.

Throughout the past two years, Andre has regular physical therapy that includes swimming and riding horses bareback to strengthen his muscles and tendons. He can walk if someone holds his hand or he's holding onto something, his father said.

Andre is still gaining strength in his legs and developing his sense of balance, de Guisti said.

The boy also will abandon his walker and scuttle around on his hands and feet.

The walker makes his legs tired, said Jill Weiss, Dr. Arno Weiss's wife.

The experience in hospitals has had some effect on Andre. While he is a happy and active boy, his mother said, Ande is cautious of hospitals and doesn't like seeing people wearing scrubs and surgical masks.

The family returned to Saginaw in January 2013 for checkups with DeBari and the Covenant staff.

Amore de Guisti said she was nervous about what DeBari might say, but all was well.

"He's doing very well," DeBari said. "Better than I expected."

Andre needs more physical therapy and potentially more surgeries, he said.

Still, DeBari said he is confident Andre will be able to walk unaided.

The elder Dino de Guisti said it's nice to see the Covenant staff and the people of mid-Michigan have been friendly.

The de Guistis again are staying with the Weisses, with whom they have grown close.

"It's like having more children," Jill Weiss said as she held the de Guistis 6-month-old son, Dino. "They call us Oma Jill and Opa Arnie."

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