As we report each year during our Children's Hospital fund-raising campaign, the staff often follows patients for years. My associate, Lynn Ryzewicz, has the story of a girl whose three surgeries since 1998 have improved her situation greatly.
Christina Rogers is known to the staff at Children's Hospital as determined. She takes on her disability in the same way she dominates the sports she plays.
As a result of a spinal cord injury at birth, Christina is paraplegic. She can use her arms but not her legs. A native of Brazil, she was adopted at age 1 by Phyllis Rogers.
Since then, Phyllis, a sign language interpreter at Gallaudet University in Washington, has adopted four other children from foreign countries who have major disabilities. One is also paraplegic, and three are deaf. The family lives in Springfield.
For the last four years, Christina, 13, has needed constant medical attention for a leaking bladder. She was treated at another hospital at first, but Phyllis was dissatisfied. She heard that Children's urologists Gil Rushton and Barry Bilmon were more aggressive in treating Christina's ailment. They have been.
Since mid-1998, Christina has undergone three surgeries to correct her bladder problem. The most recent was in December. Now, Christina empties her bladder every three hours through a catheter she attaches to her belly button herself.
Phyllis said their lives are easier as a result of the surgeries. Before, the family couldn't take direct long-distance airplane rides because Christina might have an accident.
Rushton, the chairman of the Children's urology department, said Christina has always been positive. "She never complains," Rushton said. "She's never angry or depressed. Her attitude has always been fantastic. She's a winner in no matter what she does."
Christina applies the same attitude to sports. She has been an avid athlete since she was 6 years old. A confident girl with strong arms, she swims, plays basketball and tennis and competes at national track events.
Last year, she went to Albuquerque for the Junior National Wheelchair Championships. She brought home gold medals in the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter track events. She took second in the breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle swimming events.
Christina credits the staff at Children's for her athletic success. They gave her antibiotics and scheduled her surgeries so her recuperation wouldn't interfere with training.
One of her favorite staff members is nurse Doris Carlson. "I love her," Christina said. "She's helped me get through the toughest times. If I get scared, she explains what's going to happen. And she's really funny." Christina said Carlson is especially amusing when she makes necklaces out of catheters.
Carlson and Rushton said the key to Christina's success is her mother. "The mother's a saint," Rushton said. "There are few true saints. Her children are evidence to how much she gives them. They're reaching their maximum potential. They're a happy, well-adjusted family."
Phyllis is humble about sainthood, but she has a strong personality and wit. Asked why she adopted these children, she pointed to the dire economic situation in developing countries. Because her children were up for adoption despite major disabilities, chances were that their health care would be insufficient, Phyllis figured.
The children are from Brazil, Colombia and China. All require different types of attention. Phyllis said she expects her children to work together as a family. "We would never get it done if they didn't understand that expectation from the beginning," Phyllis said.
Christina has been given regular chores, and she plays with her sisters all the time. The youngest, Jessica, 2, who is also paraplegic, came into the family in July from Brazil. Christina taught Jessica to maneuver her mini-wheelchair like an expert. The sisters are very close, and Jessica spends much of her time playing on Christina's lap.
Both girls learned sign language so they could communicate with their other sisters. Sign is the language of the house, Phyllis said. Everyone has to use it so no one is left out.
Once winter is over, Christina will start training for this summer's Junior Nationals in San Jose. She hopes to bring home gold medals in track and swimming.
Rushton has no doubt she can do it. "She uses the same determination in her competitions that she does with her medical problems," he said. "Despite her setbacks, she's never given up on any goal."
Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.
In hand as of Jan. 7: $511,768.34.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.