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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 August, 2004, 02:47 GMT 03:47 UK
My new left foot
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online health staff

Emade Okungbowa before her operation (C) Bupa
Emade Okungbowa before her operation
Ten-year-old Nigerian girl Emade Okungbowa is just like any youngster of her age, she laughs, smiles and loves shoes.

All perfectly ordinary - until you consider that until recently, Emade could not even wear a shoe on her left foot, which was enlarged by a rare medical condition, to nearly two feet in length.

It was also the cause of many cruel jokes and merciless teasing and bullying from other girls and boys, which made Emade a pariah in her own community and so distraught that she could not face going to school.

Her life has changed quite dramatically since an operation to reduce the size of her foot was carried out by a Cambridge surgeon last month.

The doctor who brought Emade to the UK for surgery explained how she had "been to hell and back" but the feisty spirit that had been cruelly crushed by the bullies returned within a few days of the operation.

Emade has a condition known as macrodactyly, where her left foot had grown to more than twice the size of her right foot.

She was brought to the attention of Cambridge GP Dr David Donovan, who runs the charity New Foundations, which is involved with medical projects in areas of the Third World where no treatment and facilities are available.

He and his team were working in Nigeria at the time and Emade's sister took her along to see Dr Donovan asking if he could give his opinion on her condition.

He said: "She was the most withdrawn girl I had seen.

"She had not been to school for ages because of her condition and the other children were jeering and pointing at her, so I saw what they were doing at first hand."

Amputation threat

It was not Emade's first experience of seeing a doctor, although this one was a lot friendlier than the last.

Dr Donovan said: "She had been taken to a witch doctor and they had slashed her feet with razor blades and stuffed pepper in the wounds."

He took some video pictures of Emade's foot and ,on his return to the UK, showed it to Cambridge consultant orthopaedic surgeon Fred Robinson.

Dr Donovan said: "The doctors she had seen in Nigeria said 'amputate her leg below the knee'."

She had been taken to a witch doctor and they had slashed her feet with razor blades and stuffed pepper in the wounds
Dr David Donovan, New Foundations charity
Mr Robinson had a better and less drastic proposition which might give Emade the chance of a normal life.

She was "totally excited" about the operation, said Dr Donovan.

"When I met her at Gatwick airport, I almost didn't recognise her," he enthused.

"She ran up to me in bare feet and came up and got hold of my hand. It was very touching."

'Eternal outcast' fears

The operation was carried out at the Bupa Cambridge Lea Hospital last month.

Mr Robinson said: "She had a pretty extreme case of macrodactyly. I had never seen a foot this big."

During the hour-long operation, he cut her foot right down, slightly smaller than the other foot, to compensate for any further growth.

The macrodactyly, could return and Emade may not be entirely free of the condition until she stops growing.

Emade Okungbowa with her father William and nurse Sue Flynt
After the operation Emade "wanted to buy shoes"
Mr Robinson had to remove all Emade's toes during surgery, cut the bone and re-shape the foot.

Emade's father told Dr Donovan that without this operation, Emade would have been an "eternal outcast".

The disability would have ruined her chances of finding a job, a husband and therefore the possibility of children.

Nursing career

After the operation, she was "extremely excited", said Dr Donovan.

"She wanted to go in to town and buy shoes and so we took her. She had only ever worn flip-flops before."

Emade went home with two pairs of new shoes.

The cast that was fitted to her foot after the operation, has been taken off and she now wears a protective splint.

Dr Donovan gets progress reports from her local doctor in Nigeria and she is making a good recovery.

Her life now could not be more different from the way it was just a few months ago.

She is starting a private school in Nigeria in September, paid for by New Foundations and she hopes to become a nurse.

Dr Donovan plans to visit her when he returns for more charity work in October and her progress will be carefully monitored.

There is a slim chance she may require another operation in the future, but Emade has so much determination that it is likely she will get through this unaided - with both feet planted firmly on the ground.

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08 Jun 99  |  Health

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