Prosthetics open up possibilities for Chatham girl

Vanina Valora, 11, is shown inside her Chatham home next to a prosthetic leg she uses for water activities. (Tom Morrison/Postmedia Network)

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Being born with a short femur on one leg hasn’t stopped Vanina Valora from enjoying all kinds of recreational activities.

The 11-year-old Chatham resident has a condition called proximal femoral focal deficiency, or PFFD. One of her legs is shorter than the other, so she uses artificial limbs to walk, run and swim.

When she was four, she underwent a procedure called rotationplasty so the joint in the heel of her shorter leg could act as her knee joint when she uses a prosthetic leg.

“She didn’t have a good hip, so she needed some surgeries for her hip,” said Valora’s mother, Yana Pashkova. “Then eventually what they did is they fused the knee, so it’s not in the way. She can’t really use it, so they kind of fuse it and then they turn her foot around.”

Valora has her regular prosthetic leg for walking, but requires special legs for different activities. Since these are not covered by government programs, they have used the services of the War Amps Child Amputee – or CHAMP – program.

“If you go underwater with this (regular leg), and you keep going and going, it’s going to get stiff and you won’t be able to use it,” said Valora.

Pashkova said the leather material of the regular leg would be a problem for underwater use, so Valora uses one made from a different material for those types of activities.

She said all of the pieces for the swim leg are not rust-proof, but “it’s definitely made different so that the water doesn’t damage it so much.”

The War Amps also has legs other activities such as running, said Pashkova.

Valora also bikes, rides her scooter, skis, dances, skips rope and climbs trees. She said she wants to learn how to skate.

“I’ve always been a little nervous about it, so we haven’t gotten into it yet,” said her mother.

Valora has had five surgeries throughout her life. The most recent was done because her shorter leg grows slower, so the doctors made it so her femur on her other leg will only grow from the top, not the bottom, said Pashkova.

A couple of years ago, Valora had a cast on her shorter leg, preventing her from using an artificial leg, but Pashkova said her daughter still figured out a way to use her scooter.

“I don’t even know how I did it. I would hop and then I would go on,” said Valora.

“I don’t know how she still managed to play outside and do all of the activities,” added Pashkova. “She was outside playing every day.”

Valora said she has been bullied on certain occasions. When she lived in Red Deer, Alta., there was one student who would laugh at her and say she couldn’t run because of her leg, she said.

However, Pashkova said Valora is actually faster than her friends.

After moving to Chatham-Kent about two years ago, Valora has also faced some bullies. She said one boy pushed her off of a snow pile and put mud in someone’s hat and threw it at her.

Valora had her cast on for 14 months after a hip surgery and, when she was a week away from walking again, a boy refractured her hip by jumping on it, putting her out of school for two months, said Pashkova.

“I didn’t show up at the school for a while until I cooled off because it was after 14 months of waiting and then this happens,” she said. “I was just not impressed, especially the fact that it wasn’t an accident.”

However, Pashkova said Valora has always had a lot of friends, with some students saying they want a “robotic” or “superhero” leg like her.

The CHAMP program has also invited Valora to attend conferences, where she has met other children who use prosthetic legs.

“It’s kind of funny because usually kids that are missing a limb are a minority, but at those conferences, especially when they go to the pool, they’re a majority and then everybody (else) feels out of place for once,” said Pashkova.

The children also “don’t feel alone” at these “motivational” events, she said.

According to Pashkova, Valora has never been “too bothered” by her condition, except for the “constant questions” about it. Pashkova said she tells her daughter to send people to her if she doesn’t want to answer their questions.

“Sometimes it’s fun to invent stories that are not true, like a shark attack or crazy stories where people are like, ‘Oh really? This happened?’” she said.

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