For 16-year-old Mariah Ross of Liberty, a nurse practitioner’s referral made more than 15 years ago changed her life forever — and for the better.
Mariah “was born with the bone between her knee and ankle [in her right leg] being shorter than the [same] bone in her left leg,” and she lacked two toes on her right foot, said her mother, Nicole Ross.
After her birth at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, Mariah later became a patient of Pamela North Gerrish, NP, at the Walker Health Center in Liberty. When Mariah was 11 months old, Gerrish referred her to a free Shriners’ mobile clinic held at the Belfast Lions Club.
“Doctors and nurses were there,” along with Masons and Shriners who assisted families attending the clinic, Nicole recalled. After examining Mariah, Shrine doctors approved treating her at the Shriners’ hospital in Springfield, Mass.
“We didn’t know anybody in the Shrine, but we did find a sponsor before she went,” Nicole said.
Dr. David Drvaric, an orthopedic surgeon, met with the Rosses during Mariah’s first visit to Springfield. After Mariah underwent another screening, Dravric discussed with the Rosses two options for treating her condition.
One option involved multiple operations well into Mariah’s teens. The other option involved removing her foot so Mariah could be fitted with a prosthetic leg.
Ultimately “we decided to amputate her [right] foot right below her ankle,” Nicole said. Doing so would leave Mariah with full ankle use, but the decision was difficult, Nicole admitted.
With Mariah now walking, Shrine hospital staffers placed lifts on her right shoes “to make her the same height” with both legs,” Nicole said. Then at “[age] 23 months, she had her surgery.”
The Rosses stayed a week in Springfield before returning to Maine. Nicole recalled spending a few nights at the hospital and other nights at the Ronald McDonald House in Springfield.
A few weeks later, Nicole brought Mariah back to be fitted for her first prosthetic leg. This time Nicole stayed with Mariah in her room.
As with so many other children seen at the Shrine Children’s Hospital, a prosthetic limb never slowed down the growing Mariah. Shrine staffers always made sure that her prosthetic leg matched her natural leg in length and function; “sometimes it was two [legs] a year [that Mariah received], sometimes it was one,” Nicole said.
She estimated that Mariah has received 12 prosthetic legs, including one provided earlier this summer. Mariah will probably receive one more leg before her 18th birthday, when she will no longer qualify for Shrine medical care.
“The people who make my legs adjust them until I feel comfortable in them,” Mariah said. “They’re really wonderful to work with.”
Now the chief of staff at Springfield, David Drvaric still treats Mariah, and he “is pretty much one of the family,” Nicole said. “He’s an absolutely amazing man; I couldn’t ask for a better doctor.”
Since Mariah’s first visit to the Springfield hospital, the Shrine has paid for all her medical care, including her prostheses and visits to outpatient clinics.
The free medical care “made a huge difference. If they had charged us, we couldn’t have afforded the care,” Nicole said.
She pays the travel expenses related to Mariah’s medical care, but the Shrine helps with this cost, too. Once when Nicole’s car was on the blink, the Kora Shrine provided her with a rental car at no cost so she could transport Mariah to Springfield.
At other times, “the Sunshine Club for Children here [at Anah Shrine] has reimbursed us for hotels” and for gas when the Rosses used their own vehicle, Nicole said.
Mariah started playing sports while in the second grade at the Walker Elementary School in Liberty. “I played basketball, field hockey, and softball,” Mariah said, noting that she has never walked with a limp nor experienced difficulty in running.
“The people at school are amazed at how she is able to be so involved in sports,” Nicole said.
Now a junior at Mount View High School in Thorndike, Mariah has been a varsity cheerleader since her sophomore year. Debating whether to attend Husson University or the University of Connecticut, she said that “I want to go to college for [a] physical therapy [major].
“I would be good at it because of what I’ve gone through with my leg, and I know how to relate to people having to have therapy,” Mariah said.