A year and a half after five-year-old Waina Dorcelus arrived in Montreal to save her leg, she is nearly ready to return to Haiti.

Waina suffers from a chronic bone infection that destroyed most of her left tibia as a toddler.

After a slew of unsuccessful surgeries back home, the only option left was to amputate her leg — something her mother Nini Dorcelus wasn't willing to do.

"It was very hard," Dorcelus said. "I cried a lot."

In July 2014, Montreal's Shriners Hospitals for Children took Waina on as a patient. The institution agreed to treat her free of charge to ensure that Waina could keep her leg.

Waina's condition isn't rare but it progressed quickly without being sufficiently treated in Haiti. 

"The orthopedic surgeons had told me they had never seen something like this," said Dr. Julia von Oettingen, a pediatric endocrinologist who works with the Kay Mackenson Clinic and followed Waina from Haiti to Montreal.

They first came to Canada after former Montreal Gazette journalist Sue Montgomery was approached by contacts in Haiti to see if she could sponsor the girl and her mother during their treatment period in Montreal.

Surgery after surgery

In the short time that Waina and Nini have spent in Canada, she has undergone three surgeries, including one to help her breathing.

"She's had 14 surgeries [in total] and she goes in like a champ," said von Oettingen. 

Waina Montreal

Waina Dorcelus arrived in Montreal in July 2014. (Courtesy Sue Montgomery)

 

Waina hasn't been able to put weight on her leg, now in a cast, since her last operation in November. She's afraid to walk because her leg has been in pain for most of her life.

"She is very courageous," said Dorcelus.

The pair should be able to return to Haiti in 2016 if Waina's medical appointment in January goes well. 

She will have to return to Montreal for at least two more surgeries to extend her leg as she grows, including one in 2017.

Community effort

The hospital provided free medical treatment and the Kay Mackenson Clinic covered flight costs and passports, but the pair needed sponsors in order to come to Canada.

Montgomery and her husband offered to oversee the financial wellbeing of the family. She goes to Waina's medical appointments and spends time with the girl she describes as witty.

Waina

Sue Montgomery, left, plays with Waina, centre, and Dr. Julia von Oettingen, right, on Christmas Day. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

"We do what we can," said Montgomery. "It's been really great for us to see her learn and grow."

It has been a community effort to support Waina's stay in Montreal, says Montgomery. 

The generosity of others hasn't only covered living expenses. The donations will help send Waina to school when she returns home.

"I think she could really have a great future given the opportunity," Montgomery said. "I'm hoping she can get an education now."