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Maria

a modern-day miracle

Story by CURE International January 29th, 2018
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Maria Mercedes carries names from both of her mothers: Maria, the name of the mother who adopted her, and Mercedes, the name given to her by her birth mother.

Both mothers gave her life.

Maria and Maria Mercedes
“Maria Mercedes was sick and her mom was mentally ill. A neighbor came to tell me about the situation so I went to visit her. The mom said if she receives medical attention, she might have a chance to live. I asked the mom if I could take her to the doctor, and she allowed me. The doctor told me that Maria was really sick and needed someone to keep a close eye on her. I knew that kind of attention couldn’t be provided by the mom because she was already sick. That’s the point when I asked the mother to give Maria to me.
“At that time, the only thing she could say was ‘yes’ because otherwise, Maria would have died. So I talked to her other relatives and most of them agreed with me, but an aunt asked me, ‘Why do you want her? She’s sick.’ I told her, ‘She’s a human being. She’s a baby. With God ahead of us, she will be healthy again.’”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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Maria and her husband, Luciano, have four other children. Their children were 18, 16, 14, and nine when they decided to adopt Maria Mercedes.

“At that time I was working and my husband didn’t have a steady job. People asked me, ‘What are you thinking? It’s too big of a responsibility.’ I said, ‘If God helps me with four, He’ll help me with five.’
“It wasn’t just the motherly love I felt for Maria, it was the love of Jesus that made me make the decision. I knew that if I made the decision, Jesus would make it with me and would help me all the way through.”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
Maria Mercedes' father, Luciano

Admittedly, faith is not something Maria lacks. She has lots of it. Maria tends to believe that the best things are not only possible, they’re probable. And, just as she believed, Maria Mercedes got better with each passing day.

“When Maria started talking and walking a little bit, I brought her mom to the house to meet her, and she was so surprised with Maria’s progress and told me that I had achieved everything I told her I would.
“But when she started to walk… we realized the problem with Maria’s legs.”
Photo by Oscar Tejeda
“She would ask, ‘Why am I not like you? Why am I not like my sister? Why can’t I walk straight?’ I would always say, ‘Don’t worry. Everything’s ok, you’re going to be fine.’”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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Maria Mercedes was taken to a rehabilitation hospital where she was put in corrective boots, but the boots didn’t help. Then she was given braces made out of steel bars that went from her waist to her feet. The braces were uncomfortable and she couldn’t walk in them, and even when she did wear the braces there was no sign of progress.

“Being born with a disability in the Dominican Republic means being invisible. But it also means that if a disability has to do with an orthopedic need, you don’t stand a chance. People don’t really think that healing someone with an orthopedic condition is worth it.”
Mariel Pimentel, Executive Director, CURE Dominican Republic
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Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Maria Mercedes always believed she’d be healed someday.

“She wasn’t ashamed of her condition. I used to take her to rehabilitation in my arms. I remember one day Maria said, ‘Put me on the ground. Let them see me. Because I know that God will straighten my legs.’ At that moment, I tried to hide it, but I started crying a little bit because I thought, ‘Wow, this child is teaching me a lesson right now.’ Many times, Maria would tell me after being bullied, ‘I’m sure that God will heal me. I’m good with that.’”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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They kept going back to the hospital for follow-up appointments until a security guard decided it was time to intervene.

“He was there every time we went to rehabilitation, so that last day he stopped me to talk about Maria. He realized that she was kind of desperate; there wasn’t anything else to do, so he said, ‘Really close by, there is a place called CURE, and they have really good doctors who can solve it.’”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother

Maria, even with her big faith, had grown tired of not seeing the results they had been promised. It had been over a year. They had gone to other doctors and tried other treatments, all to no avail. And on this particular day, she didn’t want to get her hopes up again. She just wanted to go home.

So, she did.

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It would be another three years until she heard about CURE again.

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After three more years of dead ends and no answers, Maria heard about CURE for a second time.

“A neighbor went to Santo Domingo and said, ‘I found this place, CURE, and they solve these kinds of things. I even made an appointment for you.’”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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This time, she decided to go. She knew it was the right decision as soon as they arrived.

“The first time I went to CURE, I felt that I wasn’t going to move from there. First, for the faith that I could see everywhere, but also by the way not only the doctors and the nurses treated Maria and me, but every employee of CURE.”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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“Maria Mercedes has a condition called rickets. It causes bone softening or demineralization and is usually associated with a lack of vitamin D. Unfortunately, children like Maria who don’t get early treatment will get progressively weaker bones that will start to bow. She came in with big bowed legs and needed surgery. When the deformity involves both lower legs as well as both upper legs, it is quite extensive surgery to make her legs straight—so much so that you can’t even do it in one surgery. We’ve done stage surgeries, starting with her right leg and then her left leg, doing osteotomies, which means cutting the bones and making them straight so she can walk normally.”
Dr. Dan Ruggles, Medical Director, CURE Dominican Republic
Dr. Ruggles evaluates Maria's X-rays

Maria Mercedes is a long-term patient at CURE Dominican Republic. Her surgical process alone will take over a year to complete, not counting any follow-up care. And while every patient who comes to our hospitals is immediately adopted into the CURE family, for long-term patients like Maria Mercedes, it’s different.

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“You see her crying—when she is in pain, when she is afraid, and then post-op, follow-up care when they have to do some care on her external fixator—these are tough times for these kids. For Maria especially, she finds a way to light up her face and let us know that, yes, I’m scared, but thank you for being there for me.
“You develop the trust over time. And with the family there is also that trust. And eventually, you become part of the family.”
Sue Ruggles, Specialty Consultant Pediatric Nurse, CURE Dominican Republic
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“I’ve seen the love of God in all the cases, not just Maria’s. In other hospitals you go, get treated, you get better, you go home. If you are not better, you go home also. I don’t feel that way at CURE. Not only do we receive physical treatment, we receive the word of God. Now, whenever we go, I don’t feel like a patient; I feel like family.”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
Paola and Maria play with bubbles
“Maria Mercedes usually says that she has a big family here at CURE. Every time she comes, she comes with a big smile, saying hi to everyone and everyone says hi back to her. She’s always very, very happy.”
Paola Morillo, Children’s Mentor, CURE Dominican Republic
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Unlike our extended time with Nafiou and Jocy, our team only got to spend one day with Maria Mercedes. She came in, had her fixator removed the next day, and went home in the afternoon.

But even in that brief window of time, we knew we were dealing with a special family and a special kid, a sentiment that was only cemented by the fact that she stole my phone and took this selfie minutes before rolling into surgery.

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We went back to the Dominican Republic in January to visit Maria Mercedes. She’s still in the process of healing, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to her family. To them, it feels like she’s already healed.

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“I remember once after her first surgery when she saw her leg was straight she said, ‘Mom, I thank God first and then Dr. Ruggles for my new leg.’ And every time someone comes and says, ‘Oh, she’s fine! Praise God, she’s fine,’ she says, ‘Yes, thank God and thank CURE.’”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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“I love Maria. I love what CURE has been doing for her. When I see her, the only thing I can do is ask for blessings for each one of you.”
Dolores, Maria Mercedes’ grandmother
Maria Mercedes' grandmother, Dolores
“I can't see God Himself, but I can see His work. For the people who see Maria, it’s a dream come true. Some people used to tell me, ‘You’ll die on the way to the hospital. She won’t get well. You’re going to waste all you have on going to the doctor and she’s not going to survive anyway.’ I say, ‘I believe in the power of God, that He will heal her.’ Now they say it’s amazing and unbelievable that something like this would happen.”
Maria, Maria Mercedes’ mother
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Nothing is stopping Maria Mercedes from being a normal kid while she waits for straight legs, not even a wheelchair and an external fixator. She’s a slugger at wiffleball. She’s a champion paddleball player (even with string that broke and needed to be re-tied about a hundred times during our visit). While we were interviewing her parents, she wheeled over and repeatedly whispered “pe-lo-ta, pe-lo-ta, payyy-lowww-tahhh,” the Spanish word for “ball,” to make sure I knew she wanted to play instead of listen to our conversation. During an interview with her grandmother, she sent her best friend Chiquita over to deliver a cup of “coffee” to me, made out of bubbles, served in a tiny tea cup. Maria loves to dance and color and run people over with her wheelchair and make super model poses and wash dishes.

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Maria Mercedes' unstoppable faith flows freely, and just as she said, those who see her know God is at work. A miracle is happening, and her whole community is bearing witness to it.

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You can see more of Maria Mercedes' story, along with other encouraging patient stories, in the move Modern Day Miracles at cure.org/miracles.

Footnote: Story by Beka Watts. Photography by Bryce Alan Flurie.
Dominican Republic