“Estero woman arranges a miracle for Ecuador Teen needing surgery” 5/5/01

Saturday, August 4, 2001

By ERINN HUTKIN, Staff Writer

Because of Estero resident Mirna Ramos, 13 year-old Diana Hernandez no longer has pain in her back and chest.

Because of Ramos’ dedication to Diana — a girl from Ecuador she never met — the right side of Diana’s back is no longer marked with a hump. She grew three inches taller in a few weeks. And Ramos can no longer see the girl’s inward-curving spine struggling to push its way through her stomach.

It’s all because Mirna Ramos, a 43-year-old mother, never gave up hope that this girl with a rare spinal deformity could come to America and be cured through surgery.

In September 1999, Ramos saw Diana Hernandez for the first time on the Spanish television network Univision. Hernandez has a rare condition called Conradi Hunermann Syndrome. It makes her spine curve and twist awkwardly inward, toward her stomach. The curve grew as Diana grew. It could have caused difficulty breathing, pinched nerves or paralysis.

Because Ramos’ teenage daughter once had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, she felt compelled to help Diana.

After writing letters asking for help — letters to large corporations, national talk shows, doctors and hospitals across the nation — Ramos wrote a letter to the Naples Daily News in April explaining Diana’s situation.

A part-time resident from Marco Island saw the letter and donated $20,000 so Diana could have surgery in Los Angeles. The donor also offered to fly Ramos to California to meet Diana and be with her during surgery.

After nearly two years of trying — and struggling— Ramos’ efforts ended successfully late last month when Diana completed corrective surgery.

Last week, she literally walked out of the hospital.

While bringing Diana to America was a long, difficult process, Ramos says meeting Diana and seeing her benefit from surgery made everything worthwhile.

“I know what I did and I’m happy about it,” Ramos said. “The doctor said she’ll grow up, she’ll be able to marry, she’ll be able to bear children.”

Ramos was in Los Angeles from June 13 to July 4, where she got to know Diana as a sweet person — the type of girl who, as she slept with Ramos and her daughter on a sofa bed — got up in the middle of the night and covered everyone with kicked-off blankets.

Diana’s first surgery was June 30. Dr. Robert Pashman spent six hours operating. He inserted a camera into Diana’s chest, allowing him to see as he removed disks between her vertebrae to loosen her chest.

Then he repeated the procedure on her back.

For two weeks after surgery, Diana lived in a wheelchair with a metal, box-like halo and weight attached to her head to stretch and loosen her spine.

During the second operation on July 12, Pashman drove screws and rods into Diana’s spine to hold it in place.

Pashman said Diana’s curving spine caused her to be very short, especially in the trunk of her body. Surgery allowed her chest and trunk to grow to normal proportions. It also took pressure off organs that were being crushed, like a lung that was starting to collapse.

He said while the goal of surgery was stopping the curve of Diana’s spine, he saw the teen’s confidence rise when the procedure improved her hunchbacked appearance.

“(Her appearance) was one of the things she had a problem with, she was ostracized,” Pashman said. “I’m just thrilled with the way she came out … (Her appearance) was one of the things that really made her happy.”

Pashman and other hospital staff cared for Diana free of charge. He said Diana’s surgery was arranged through a charity called Healing the Children, which has a contracted rate with the hospital for cases like Diana’s.

She will have no medical bills and Pashman said he does not expect her to have spinal problems in the future.

Meanwhile, Ramos said she plans to keep in touch with the girl she met through television. She said that contact is already starting with weekly calls to California, where Diana and her mother are staying with a host family until they return home later this month.

“To see her in person, it was just so different,” Ramos said. “I will never forget her.”

It’s likely Diana Hernandez will say the same thing about Mirna Ramos.

(Erinn Hutkin can be reached at 213-6039 or by e-mail at echutkn@naplesnews.com)

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