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Daring Procedure Allows Bolivian Girl To Walk

MIAMI (CBS4) - Born with a condition that led to paralysis that doctors deemed untreatable, a Bolivian girl was able to walk away from her wheelchair for the first time in 4 years.

Maria Choma Guasase, 14, has lived with paralysis for the past four years due to the congenital illness Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in her spinal cord.  An AVM is an abnormal tangle of dilated blood vessels in or around the spinal cord which is formed as the embryo develops in the womb.  The tangling of veins and arteries is a disruption to normal blood flow which can result in an enlarged and compressed spinal cord.  The effects can cause numbness and eventually paralysis, brain hemorrhage, and in 5-10 percent of cases, death.

In some cases, treatment in the form of surgery is possible, but because of the depth of her AVM, a visit to doctors in Bolivia left no hope for Maria.  Instead, interventional neuroradiologist, Italo Linfante, M.D. of Baptist Hospital in Miami, proposed to change Maria's life with a high-risk embolization procedure.

Almost two weeks ago, Dr. Linfante was able to enter her spinal cord with a hair-like catheter, through the arteries which supplied the malformation with blood.  By injecting a glue-like substance inside the core of the AVM, he reduced blood flow to the formation, which relieved the crippling pressure on Maria's spinal cord.

"These lesions in the spine, in order to get there you have to open the spinal cord," said Dr. Linfante. "Basically, we go through the groin inside the arteries and reach the malformation and try to close it ejecting the material."

Within 10-days of the risky surgery, Maria, with the assistance of a physical therapist, took her first steps in parallel bars last week.  With a huge smile on her face and through her translator she told CBS4's Cristina Puig how she felt to walk again.

"She's very happy to be taking steps and making progress."

Maria's mother, Maciana Guasase, says she can't find the words to express her gratitude to the team of doctors at Baptist Hospital.  She is thrilled to see her daughter, although small steps, walking.

Maria will remain in the United States for a few more months while she continues her physical therapy.  She hopes to one day be able to ride her bicycle and play soccer.

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