Hadi, who is from the Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank of Palestine, was born with arthrogryposis, which causes "stuck" joints and orthopedic deformities. His knees bent the wrong way and his feet faced upside down, but with help from the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), he can now take his first steps and begin attending school.
Before treatment, Hadi's condition left him the options of crawling or being carried. Standing created large abscesses on his ankles and his knees hyperextended such that his lower leg could swing forward but not bend backward.
Hadi and his mother, Sherine, arrived in the United States last fall in preparation for the life-changing surgeries to be led by orthopedic surgeon Lawrence Rinsky of the Stanford School of Medicine. Hadi's care — including surgery, rehabilitation and host stays — was arranged by the PCRF, a nonprofit that provides cost-free medical treatment abroad to children in the Middle East who are unable to receive it in their home country. His family connected with the organization at a clinic in the West Bank, "and from there, we were able to reach out to Dr. Rinsky. I emailed him and he was all for it right away," said Nuha Shuman, medical coordinator for the nonprofit's Bay Area chapter.
Treatment of Hadi's feet began with a series of casts meant to gradually stretch the skin, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissue. In February, he had a small operation to lengthen his Achilles tendon, followed by a larger operation a month later to remove the middle bone in his ankle.
"This created enough slack to bring his feet to a near-neutral position," Rinsky said.
His knees were also treated with a surgery and a series of casts "to slightly lengthen the muscles that straighten his knees, allowing slightly more bending and preventing hyperextension," Rinsky said. He can now bend his knees at about 45 degrees, allowing him to sit in places like the backseat of a car.
"He was a champ. It was painful, but he handled it like a pro," Shuman said. "The first thing he said when they took off the cast was, 'Thank God,' and 'thank you,' and gave Dr. Rinsky a big hug, and he showed up in a suit wearing a plastic stethoscope because he wants to be Dr. Rinsky."
With feet that allow him to walk and wear shoes, he can now go to school, the first step in realizing this dream.
When the casts were removed, he had walking braces almost right away. The custom AFO braces were donated by Hanger Clinic in Mountain View. Lucile Packard physical therapy clinical specialist Richard Gee was ready to get Hadi walking, while a walker donated by custom-wheelchair company Numotion provided support in the early stages.
"None of the donors hesitated," Shuman said. "Right away, no questions asked, they were willing to help."
Hadi has been walking on his own, no walker needed, for about a month now.
"To understand what Hadi's feet looked like before, and what he does now, is almost night and day," Gee said. "Even just the standing process of getting his body over his feet is a new process for him."
Exercises included games like kicking a small beach ball while seated and throwing a ball at bowling pins while standing.
With his new mobility, Hadi looks most forward to playing soccer, he said.
During his time in the United States, Hadi has become a fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Chuck E. Cheese's and the iPad.
Hadi will return home in late June to his father and siblings, bringing a bit of English, like, "What's up, dude?" along with him. Most of all, he remains positive, always smiling.
"This is a very bright young man," Rinsky said. "I think he has a good future ahead of him."
A longer version of this article has been posted on PaloAltoOnline.com.