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The Resilient Life of Little Juana, and a Guatemal Adoption.

GRANTSBURG, WI—If you don’t believe kids are resilient, you haven’t met five-year-old Juana Olson of Grantsburg.

Her mother died during child-birth, her dad wasn’t around, the uncle taking care of her as an infant turned her over to a state mental institution, and she eventually ended up in an orphanage.

Plus the medical condition that cost her the use of her leg, the leg that would end up being amputated.
All of that before the age of four.

Through it all, Juana has not lost her upbeat temperament, and it’s rare not to see a smile on her face or hear her infectious giggle.

For Jenny and Eric Olson, parents of Erland and Garrett, ages 9 and 6, respectively, adding a daughter to the family wasn’t a sudden, impulsive decision.

“We talked about adopting a daughter before all this happened, but we never did anything about it,” Jenny Olson said.

In 2003, the Olson’s had talked with a friend who told them if Juana, a young Guatamalan girl, wasn’t adopted, a hospital there was going to “hack her leg off”. If that were to happen, Jenny Olson said there was a high risk of infection, and without the aid of anesthesia, a high risk of death.

She said the social worker in Guatemala actually went into the hospital and literally pulled Juana off the operating table because the doctors were set to take the leg off.

Olson said the doctor told the social worker that if Juana wasn’t adopted in a month, they’d take the leg.
After hearing that, the Olson’s had a family meeting.

“If anyone has a problem with it (adopting Juana), now is the time to bring it up,” Jenny Olson recalled saying during the meeting.

Of course no one had a problem with it and on October 14, 2003 (Eric’s birthday), the Olson’s relayed a message to the social worker saying they’d adopt Juana.

Less than six months later, everything for the adoption was in order.

“A lot of adoptions take a year and a half or two years,” Eric Olson said. “They really wanted to get her adopted,” Jenny Olson added.

So on March 9, 2004, Jenny Olson flew to Guatemala to adopt Juana.

“It was her birthday when I went to get her,” she said.

“When we got her, it looked as if she may have had a broken leg once,” Eric Olson explained, “and it didn’t get fixed properly or fixed at all.”

So at first, he thought the bone just needed to be broken and reset.

“I brought her to our regular doctor because she had to have tests to make sure she doesn’t have tuberculosis or any other serious disease,” Jenny Olson explained. Tests did reveal that she had some sort of hepatitis.

But the regular doctor wasn’t able to help the Olson’s with Juana’s right leg.

The leg was bent at the knee and contracted behind her, almost to her buttocks. After x-raying the leg, a bone specialist the Olson’s took their daughter to explained the condition as Pterygium, a congenital deformity.

There was no knee cap in her right leg, she had an enlarged growth of tissue, in between the tibula and the femur (leg bones), and the right leg was three-inches shorter than the left leg.

The doctors gave the Olson’s a couple different scenario’s they could try to alleviate the problem.
The first was a brace for Juana’s right leg to hold it in place. “She cried and screamed whenever she had it on, so that didn’t last long,” Eric Olson remembers. Even looking at the brace brought the tears. “We were hoping that would work, but it was horrible,” Jenny Olson agreed.

The next option was a hydraulic device (fixator) that would slowly stretch the leg into a more normal position. “It would apply constant pressure and once she had it on, she’d have to leave it on until it actually worked,” Eric Olson explained.

Juana would be looking at dozens of surgeries as she grew older to keep the leg working. There was no guarantee that option would work and the Olson’s didn’t even try it.

“We decided we weren’t going to put her though that,” he continued.

The third option and the one the Olson’s ended up choosing was to have the leg amputated. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” Jenny Olson said.

The doctors told the Olson’s that amputation was the only way she’d be pain-free and able to walk right away, where the other options would take two or three years, if they worked at all.

“This way (the amputation), she’d have one surgery and she’d be done,” Eric Olson said.

Because the Olson’s doctor had recommended Shriners Hospital, a friend at their church gave them the name of the local Shriners representative, Dick Faye.

Faye put the Olson’s in contact with the Shrine Temple in Duluth which would be supporting the Olson’s. Faye also made arrangements for the Olson’s first appointment with the Shriners Hospital.
“ We help kids who can’t get help elsewhere,” Faye said of the Shriners.

When the Shriners are involved with a child, the parents never see a bill. “We don’t want to make a family have to sacrifice,” he continued.

“I don’t know how they do it,” Jenny Olson said of the Shriners efforts. “You know they really care because of what they’re doing.”

So the amputation surgery was scheduled for the end of July at Shriners. It was during the surgery that the doctors discovered her leg was slanted at 45-degrees, “ The doctors said that even if the fixator would have straightened the leg out, she’d never have been able to stand on it, let alone walk,” Eric Olson said. “So we would have put her through all that pain and at the end find out it was for nothing.”
That news told the Olson’s they made the right decision.

Her right leg, fitted with a prosthesis, is amputated at the knee joint. Her dad said she will have to be fitted with new prosthesis as she grows.

Once again, Eric’s birthday comes into play.

“She was fitted for the prosthesis on October 13, the day before my birthday,” he said.

For Juana, having a leg to walk on was a long time coming.

“She took off like a shot when they fit her with that leg,” Eric Olson said with a laugh. “The doctor was on a stool on wheels rolling behind her because she just kept walking.”

He said when Juana went to therapy, the therapists were really impressed she was walking with that leg right away.

“ Those were the first steps she had taken,” Eric Olson said. “She had never walked before in her life, just hopping on one leg behind her walker,” he said of his daughter.

Juana doesn’t go for therapy because she has a list of exercises Eric and Jenny work with.

“If there’s anything different (walking situation), I’ll let her try it because she has to get used to it,” Jenny Olson said. “She has to get used to how to work the leg.”

Juana is fairly adept at strapping the prosthesis on her leg. The entire unit velcro’s around her waist. Of course, that will change as she grows.

“ I had to show her how to do it the first day, and after that I let her do it,” Jenny Olson said. That’s the case with a lot of the new things in her life. “Juana’s pretty independent,” her father agreed.

Even though Juana is from Guatemala (she’s actually Mayan), bridging the language barrier was never much of a problem.

“ When we got her home, she would call water ‘agua’, and that was the amount of Spanish she used,” Jenny Olson said.

Juana is enrolled in Early Childhood at Nelson School in Alpha and will be attending kindergarten next fall.

“When she started this fall she was in a wheelchair because of her amputation,” Jenny Olson explained, “and all the kids at recess would go around her and play because she was confined to her chair.”

“I heard one little girl told her mom ‘Do you remember Juana? Last year she had a leg and now she doesn’t have a leg anymore,’” she said.

Then two months ago Juana was fitted for her prosthetic. “I talked to the teacher and asked if it was going to be hard on the other kids to see that,” Jenny Olson said. She said the teacher told her she didn’t think it’d be a problem.

“The other kids accept it, and it’s almost like they have compassion for her,” she said.

When Juana’s older, the Olson’s said they would like to take her back to Guatemala so she can see where she came from. “It would be a chance for her to learn more about her heritage,” Eric Olson said.

This article was written by Todd Beckmann for the Burnett County Sentinel.

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