Julienne finds freedom

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Julienne suffered physically, but was also emotionally abused because of her extreme disfigurement

The first time 14-year-old Julienne was called a “witch,” she was too young to grasp what the word meant. But she wasn’t too young to feel the sting of her own relatives’ rejection and to know that her condition made her different … an outcast.

Julienne was just a baby when her mother, Veronique, noticed her legs were bending abnormally. Later, the little girl was formally diagnosed with bowed legs, a condition that causes the knees to grow painfully apart, forcing the legs into a “bow” shape.

She had never seen any other children with legs like hers. Even though she had friends, the reality of being the only one with abnormal legs left its mark. “I used to ask God, ‘Why me, out of all the people in the world?’” Julienne said sadly.

The pain of living with bowed legs seeped into every aspect of her young life. Walking was difficult. Running was impossible. Simply standing for too long was tiring. On the days she couldn’t ride public transport, it would take Julienne almost two hours of painstaking effort under the sweltering sun to walk to school.

It would have been easy to decide to give up on her education entirely, but Julienne didn’t just want to study. She had a bigger goal in mind – this smart, opinionated teen wanted to teach. She tutored younger children after school. She loved this responsibility, even though her slow, painstaking efforts to walk to the chalkboard often resulted in mocking laughter from her students.

Paying for an operation to straighten her legs would cost the family far more than they could afford. Free surgery was the miracle they’d always prayed for, but it seemed impossible … until they heard about Mercy Ships.

Even after Julienne and her family traveled to the ship, she still wondered if it was too good to be true. “I wished I could tell people, but I kept it quiet because I didn’t want people to laugh at me if it didn’t work,” she said.

The first glimpse of her newly straightened legs

While waiting at the Hospital Out-Patient Extension (HOPE) Center, it quickly became evident that more than just Julienne’s legs were in need of healing. Years of feeling isolated and embarrassed had taken their toll on her. But being surrounded by other patients with similar conditions made her feel less alone. She quickly bonded with other girls her age. Even before her surgery, healing had begun. Dance parties with Julienne in the middle with a huge smile on her face became a delightfully common sight.

After a successful operation, it looked to be a long road to recovery. Following so many years of walking on severely bent legs, it would not be an easy fix. It would take pain, tears and hard work … but Julienne was used to that, and she had the determined spirit to see it through.

“It was challenging at times. There were tears and sweat, but it’s obviously all worth it in the end,” said Meg Crameri, a physiotherapist who worked with Julienne during rehab. “She’s brave and a fighter.”

It took several months before Julienne was given the green light to return home. Thanks to her hard work and resilience, the day came earlier than expected, giving her the chance to surprise her friends and family!

“Before, I was proud of my daughter — every responsible mother loves her child, no matter what their situation is. But, now, I am prouder of her than ever because of how hard she has worked and the things she’s able to accomplish,” said Veronique.

When Julienne looks at photos of herself before the surgery, she doesn’t even recognize herself. “This isn’t me anymore — these aren’t my legs!” she said. “That girl is not me.”

And, months later, the difference in Julienne’s life is still beautifully evident.

Being able to walk to school uninhibited … no longer facing pointing fingers and derisive laughter … helping her mother with everyday tasks … these are the new joys she is thankful to experience.

Now Julienne’s eyes glow with confidence. This brave, brilliant, beautiful girl says, “I am so happy God has sent Mercy Ships to Cameroon. It shows me that God has a special love for me. I would have stayed like that for the rest of my life without Mercy Ships.”

Written by Rose Talbot