April 4, 2012
A 9-year old girl was admitted to the Ramakrishna hospital with severe neck pain, weakness in her arms and legs and the inability to walk. Juli Sharma was very ill: she was emaciated, her small body slowly being consumed with tuberculosis. Juli’s home situation was not much better. Her mother had died and her father, a poor farmer, could no longer care for her so he gave her up to be employed as a house servant.
X-Rays and MRI scan showed that Juli’s tuberculosis had destroyed several vertebrae in her neck and a large abscess was compressing her spinal cord, causing the weakness in her arms and legs. If Juli’s condition was not treated she would surely die. The entire OSS team mobilized quickly and performed surgery.
During the first stage of the operation her neck was stabilized with screws and small rods from a posterior approach. The second stage of the procedure involved removing several of the destroyed vertebrae from the front of her neck, draining the abscess and taking the pressure off the spinal cord. The vertebrae were replaced using a piece of bone taken from her lower leg.
Juli had a long post-operative recovery and she eventually regained the ability to walk. To cure her of the tuberculosis she required 18 months of medical treatment with triple antibiotic therapy. Her social situation improved dramatically as well when she moved into a special home for girls established by the HOPE foundation, a charity based in Ireland. Juli lived with sixty other girls where she continued to regain her health, learned to read and write and attend school.
The OSS team returned to Kolkata a year later, anxious to locate Juli and see how she had progressed. We were delighted to find Juli happy, healthy and cured of her tuberculosis. The next year we attended a local Rotary Club meeting where we were entertained with traditional Indian music and dance staged by the children from the HOPE foundation. The dancers included Juli, with huge smile on her face.