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A new leg for dancing

Monday 8 February 2021 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Health, National


A new leg for dancing
Te Vaerua Community Rehabilitation Service manager Maine Beniamina and physiotherapist Pare Tangata have consistently visited Louis since her leg amputation in March 2020. 21020407.

In March 2020, Louisa Maea from the island of Manihiki had her right leg amputated below the knee. She shares her journey of losing her leg and the appreciation she has for the invaluable support from Te Vaerua, the service manager Maine Beniamina and physiotherapist Pare Tangata - whom she now calls her “sisters”.

Te Vaerua Community Rehabilitation Service provides rehabilitation and habilitation services to people with disabilities, serious injuries, non-communicable diseases, neurological, musculoskeletal, including children and the elderly, on the Islands of Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.

Established in 2006 and registered in 2007 as a charitable, non-government organisation (NGO), Te Vaerua’s goal is to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with permanent and temporary disabilities and empower them to make decisions affecting their lives thorough the provision of an access to rehabilitation and habilitation services, training and support.

To maximize the person’s abilities and independence through diagnosis and treatment individualised to meet their needs.

Louisa Maea’s bubbly and bright personality and her welcoming smile mask the pain she has endured after having her leg amputated.

Maea lives in Manihiki with her husband, they travel to Rarotonga to visit their older children.

During a visit to see her children living in Tupapa, Maea was cleaning the yard raking and burning rubbish when she slipped, causing injuries to her right foot.

The unfortunate accident later caused a horrific infection that eventually led to the amputation.

Maea says medical staff at the Outpatients took good care of her injuries and the wound healed well and dried, “there was no pain.”

Returning to Manihiki, in the first few weeks she felt a burning sensation in her leg.

To cool off from the intense heat on the island, every day she would relax in the sea.

“It was inside my leg, not on the skin,” she says.

The nurse recommended she use aloe vera cactus.

“It helped, my husband got the cactus and we put it on the wound, the skin healed nicely but, I could feel there is something wrong inside my leg, it was so painful,” she says.

“At that time I can’t sleep on the bed, when I put my legs on the bed, ka uti toku vaevae (a deep twisted pain in her leg). I couldn’t sleep lying down, I had to sit on a chair and hang my feet down and sleep like that, sitting up.”

The nurse cut inside her leg - it was black, gangrene had set in.

A photo of the infection was sent to Dr Deacon who immediately advised she be flown over for further medical treatment.

Louisa Maea will fly out to New Zealand soon to have her prosthetic leg fitted. 21020407.

In the three days waiting for the plane to arrive to Manihiki, Maea could barely withstand the pain.

“It felt like the pain was creeping further up my leg, the same leg rae, tano mai tena mariri noku ara, na runga mai te ra mariri, kare rauka iaku i te akakoromaki, akamata mai ara tera mariri te kerekere (cellulite appeared on her foot that turned black and the pain felt more unbearable).”

At Rarotonga hospital, Dr Deacon informed her of the drastic operation that needed to be done.

Hoping to save her leg, at first only the front part of her foot was cut off, but after three days there was no improvement -  her leg would have to be amputated.

Shocked and afraid Maea broke down.

“Oh I was crying and I said to Dr Deacon, he is my nephew, I said if you cut my leg I can’t go to church,” she says.

“He told me, my life and living is important, for me to be with my kids, my family, for me to live. To cut my leg is the best thing to do for me to live.”

Maea recovered well after the operation.

“After five days he checked the dressing and said to me, Aunty Louisa ka oki koe ki te kainga (you can go home).”

Discharged from hospital, Te Vaerua began their home visits to Maea.

Physiotherapist Pare Tangata assessed Maea’s mobility and looked at suitable equipment for her.

“Also teaching her how to balance. People think it’s easy just to get up and try to walk again, they have to learn to regain their balance. We continue our visits and as she progresses we reassess.

“Our skill is to retrain, to rehabilitate, we can also teach how to massage, we are more of the strengthening part,” says Tangata.

More equipment was provided to ensure Maea was more comfortable - a wheelchair, walking frame and crutches and a high, solid chair with a tall framed back.

Te Vaerua also assessed the bathroom and shower for accessibility and gave her an over the toilet frame to make it easier to sit and get up and access into the home.

Service manager for Te Vaerua, Maine Beniamina said: “We are so proud of Maea, she is determined to get up and try walking and is eating the right foods to keep herself fit, she is positive and is progressing so well. She is inspiring and cheerful and looks at the brighter side of things.”

Maea who was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago, says the non-communicable disease (NCD) contributed to the infection in her leg.

The diabetes was confirmed before the birth of her last child in 2011, because of the size of her baby at 37 weeks, for medical reasons her baby was induced - weighing over eight pounds. Her older five children had each weighed over 10 pounds at birth.

Maea is thankful to Te Vaerua and their staff for their support.

“I’m happy at what they have done to help me, to adjust to having no leg. They gave me what I needed to move around and I thank them for my wonderful chair - teia noonga korona noku nei ei noo nei au.

“A big thank you, especially to these girls who come to visit me - my sisters, they encourage me,” says Maea.

Soon Maea will depart Rarotonga for New Zealand to have a prosthesis leg fitted.

She is looking forward to the trip and is excited to have a new leg to increase her mobility and independence.

Maea’s husband Munokoa Maea is the tauturu orometua (assistant pastor) for the Tauhunu CICC church on Manihiki, he will accompany her to New Zealand.

She loves dancing and can’t wait to return to the simplicity of life on her home island of Manihiki.

“I’m not old, I’m still young at 55 years old and I want to get active again,” she says.

“Maybe, when I come back with my new leg I might go dancing. I’ll have a waterproof leg for picnics on the motus and swimming and a dancing leg too,” she laughed.

“I’m happy, thanks to God for helping us, my husband, my kids, my family, the church I love and a special one to these sisters from Te Vaerua.”