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Disabilities: Luongo Has Miracle Surgery

On Good Friday 2013, then 39-year-old Nicole Luongo of Plantation, Florida, took a step of faith. She'd had cerebral palsy since birth, had significant difficulty walking her entire life, and her physical condition was deteriorating.

A person usually "gets" cerebral palsy during fetal development, when brain damage short-circuits the brain's ability later on to effectively control body coordination.

She said, " I used to walk with my knees bent, would lean heavily to my left, and would hit the floor with the front of my foot." Her specific type of cerebral palsy affected her from the legs down. About six years ago, she began having trouble lifting her right leg over sidewalk curbs.

By chance, two years ago, she learned of a medical procedure called a selective dorsal rhizotomy, performed by Dr. P. S. Park of St. Louis Children's Hospital, an operation that helps some people with cerebral palsy improve their gait and quality of life.

She said, "With the operation, a neurosurgeon goes in through your back and touches each of the nerve roots to determine the ones causing muscle tightness. My surgeon then removed some of my nerve roots. Muscle tightness is the main problem for people with cerebral palsy. This is the only way to remove some, or in some cases all, of the problem."

The surgery was a step of faith because she was told she wouldn't know how she would benefit, if at all, until after surgery. She also didn't know before surgery if all her costs would be covered. She was able to raise $4,500 from donors to help defray costs.

Her Good Friday 2013 operation was a success. She said, "It enabled me to walk almost like a 'normal' person. If you look at my Youtube videos of how I used to walk and how I walk now, it's unbelievable."

As a child, she had been unable to walk upstairs without using a handrail. She now walks with her heel striking the floor first, and her back and legs straight. She has better balance. And she no longer has to use a handrail when walking upstairs.

She said, "I feel I have a moral obligation to share my story. While believing I could have managed all right without surgery, my life became much better with it." She said she wanted others to know about this operation and what it could do for them and Palmer Bus Service make this column possible.

Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at

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