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news News Thursday, January 11, 2018 Thursday, January 11, 2018 11:24 AM - Thursday, January 11, 2018 11:24 AM

Dakarai learns to walk with prostheses at Shriners Hospitals for Children

Life-threatening illness took both his legs

Dakarai learns to walk with prostheses at Shriners Hospitals for Children

It was the question about the shoes that stands out. The certified prosthetist was meeting with Dakarai and his family to fit the 13-year-old for his new leg. She simply asked, “Did you bring a shoe?” The room was quiet for a moment and that’s when it sunk in. This kid hasn’t needed a shoe in more than a year because he didn’t have feet. In the last two years, doctors amputated both legs of this aspiring athlete, who loves playing football and baseball, after he mysteriously contracted necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacterial disease. But his path forward was about to change that September 2017 day when Dakarai visited the Chicago Shriners Hospital to get the first of two prosthetic legs.

Dakarai Senior, his dad, smiled after the question about shoes and said, ‘We’ll have to pick some up. He can get the whole wall of shoes.” The pair they settled on were bright blue Under Armour sneakers. These shoes had the honor of marking the first steps in a new chapter in this boy’s life. The teenager is already thinking ahead and said next on his wish list for shoes is a pair made by NBA star Stephen Curry.

When everything changed

In August 2016, Dakarai developed a sore throat. An initial visit to a local hospital attributed it to asthma. Within days his legs began hurting and he developed severe swelling. “His knees were like a football, swollen tight and filled with so much fluid,” said his mom, Charmaine. Dakarai’s feet were numb and his left foot began turning black. Within 15 minutes of being seen at the emergency room at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, Charmaine said doctors began appearing.

“About 15 doctors rushed in to him…you know it’s something when you see so many doctors come into the emergency room. Dakarai had to go into surgery right away, two hours after we arrived.” Doctors told Charmaine that the infection was eating away the muscle and tissue in his legs and backside, and even his left arm. Dakarai’s life was in danger. They amputated his left leg within days.

The family knew his right leg was also at risk even while Dakarai recovered from multiple surgeries and began rehabilitation following the amputation. “We waited and hoped he would be able to keep the leg. But as the days went on, it was like a dead weight on his body,” Charmaine said.

When the time came to get a second opinion, Dakarai’s family chose the Chicago Shriners Hospital because of their experience and because of how much they do for patients and their families beyond just typical care. More than just performing a standard amputation, Lee Alkureishi, M.D., a pediatric plastic surgeon with a focus on complex wound care, and Gregory Dumanian, M.D., used microsurgery techniques to transfer skin and tissue from the amputated leg to cover wounds on Dakarai’s thigh, which will help his leg better handle a prosthetic.

Getting new legs

After months of healing and physical therapy at home to build upper body strength, Dakarai came to the Chicago Shriners Hospital for intensive rehabilitation to learn to use prosthetic legs.

Dakarai was fitted in the fall by the certified prosthetists from Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services – Midwest, LLC (POPS) located in-house at the Chicago Shriners Hospital. The POPS staff provide the most current treatment and materials, and utilize the latest in computer assisted design technology to design and fabricate custom orthotic and prosthetic devices for growing children.

Dakarai’s journey to walking again started in October 2017 working with his right prosthesis first. In the hospital’s pediatric rehabilitation program Dakarai worked with physical, occupational and recreational therapists. Kathleen Sweeney, a Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago physical therapist who supervised his rehabilitation program, explained the process, “Dakarai is doing well and pacing himself. We are working on helping him move from standing to sitting. Part of the process is actually learning to bend the prosthetic at the knee. Therapy will also involve activities to work on upper body strength and endurance.”

“At first I felt a little nervous walking on there [the prosthesis]. But they had me,” Dakarai explained. “They kept me protected and wouldn’t let me fall or anything.”

To see a video of Dakarai's rehabilitation experience, click here.

Dakarai returned to the hospital in December 2017 to learn to walk with the second leg. He again spent time in the rehab gym working on balance, coordination and stamina. “In occupational therapy we worked on upper body strength to be more independent in his mobility,” said Liz May, MS OTR/L, one of Dakarai’s pediatric occupational therapists. “He was really fun to work with because he was so motivated and made such nice progress in a short period of time.”

Dakarai picked up the final version of his second leg in January 2018, returning to Detroit with both feet and those blue shoes.

Staying strong

Throughout Dakarai’s ordeal, this resilient young man and his parents have maintained a positive attitude. His dad and cousin came up with a hashtag which has become their motto: #KARAIStrong. Dakarai explains it’s actually an acronym. It stands for: Kids Are Really Amazing Individuals- Smart through rough obstacles never giving up

The family seems to live by this motto. And their positive attitude was noticed by our staff. During their visits to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, Dakarai Jr. and the family developed a close relationship with Dr. Alkureishi. “He was like a doctor and a friend. That’s how we look at him,” Charmaine said. “They bonded and connected.”

Her advice to other parents: “Going with Shriners Hospitals is the right thing. The doctors are amazing. You’ll feel at ease and comfortable with the doctors.”

Dakarai is beginning a new chapter of trying his legs in his home environment. The teen has a short-term goal of learning to use the stairs with his prosthetic legs and looks forward to playing wheelchair sports. The Shriners Hospitals team will be with Dakarai in his journey every step of the way.

Dakarai with Kathleen