NEW YORK -- A Filipino teenager who came to New York so doctors could perform surgery to untwist her severely clubbed feet took her first unaided steps Wednesday in pink-and-white sneakers -- the first shoes she's ever worn.
"I'm very happy," Jingle Luis said with a smile. "It was exciting."
The 15-year-old girl arrived at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in May with her mother for surgery and follow-up treatment.
She had never been able to walk on her own because she was born with feet so clubbed they twisted backward and upside down, forcing her to hobble on the tops of her feet with the help of crutches.
On Wednesday, doctors took off her post-surgical casts and replaced them with special support braces.
Then came the moment she had waited a lifetime for: She slipped her feet into her first pair of shoes and took several long strides.
The surgery, which the hospital performed for free, involved inserting screws into the bones of her feet and turning them bit by bit to straighten them out.
When the pins were taken out, the feet were straight, but casts were put on for several weeks to keep them that way.
Dr. Terry Amaral, her surgeon, expects Jingle to wear the braces for about a year.
"This is a miracle. I am very thankful to God," said Jingle's mother, Jasmine Luis, who makes a living selling fish door-to-door. Jingle's father is a corn farmer.
Jingle's case came to the attention of Montefiore after a staff physician traveled to the Philippines in 2003 with a Christian relief mission.
While clubfoot is a relatively common deformity, occurring in about one in 1,000 births, children are usually treated in infancy with casts or braces that gradually bring the feet into correct alignment.
Amaral said Jingle's condition was complicated by spina bifida, a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings.
Doctors who saw Jingle as a baby thought her spina bifida would shorten her life span and prevent her from walking, so they did not treat the clubfoot, Amaral said.
But Jingle's condition turned out to be relatively mild.
"She's essentially a normal child," Amaral said.