Kaitlyn Dobrow climbed a short staircase, her eyes fixed on every step as she pushed and lifted one prosthetic leg in front of the other.
Her parents also watched raptly, not unlike when she first learned to walk as a baby. "It's amazing the things we take for granted," her father, Don Dobrow, 60, said quietly as he watched her physical therapy session last week at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Centre in Downey.
Dobrow, 19, is slowly reclaiming pieces of her independence since her four limbs were amputated last year after she fell ill with a life-threatening case of bacterial meningitis.
In addition to her legs, she's learning to use a prosthetic arm on her right side, which she customised with a leopard-print pattern. Her left arm, which was amputated just below her shoulder, will be addressed later.
As she has throughout her recovery, Dobrow, who lives in Huntington Beach, California, displays a matter-of-fact, forward-looking attitude as she deals with the soreness, fatigue and frustration of learning to use her new limbs.
"I thought it was hard but you're going to have to get over it," Dobrow said. "It's hard but I never thought it's not going to happen because it kind of has to happen."
One day in February 2013, Dobrow went to work and then to the gym. She felt sick that night and by the next day she was rushed to the hospital.
Dobrow had developed an infection that caused her blood to clot and damage more than half her body with the equivalent of third-degree burns. She underwent 22 surgeries, including the amputations and skin grafting. She came home in October and therapists began working to prepare her highly sensitive, fragile skin for prosthesis. Late last year, she took her first steps with support from an overhead harness to offset her body weight.
"I'd get so excited I wanted to jump up and down and scream," said her mother, Kathi Dobrow, 58. "It's like a first for everything again. Don and I went from having raised our kids, to last year, it was like starting with an infant and raising her to adulthood."
Dobrow, although happy about standing and walking again, has contended with setbacks. After wearing the legs at home, she developed a large blister on her right thigh that left her unable to wear her legs again for a month. "With that blister I did sit-ups and shimmied back and forth on my bed to get the blood flowing a little bit," she said. "You have to be fit to wear your prosthetics or you can't walk." She only recently started using the legs again and must regain her stamina.
Then there's the matter of adapting to her new body mechanics and adjustments to her equipment. "At first I was really, really tall, even taller than I was before," Dobrow said. "That's why I felt so giant. I hadn't stood in forever, plus I was like 3 inches higher. They shrunk me down to my normal height of 5 foot 7. When you lift up your leg and you're just on one leg it felt like you'd just topple over. I don't want to say you're paralysed because you're moving, but you have no feeling."
Dobrow's physical therapist, Julie Kasayama, said Dobrow will eventually learn to walk without watching her feet.
- The Orange County Register
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