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HARLINGEN — Gildardo Guzman is like most other 7-year-old boys: He likes to swim, play video games and play with his older brother Carlos.
If it weren’t for the physical aspect, no one would ever be able to tell that he battled osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, just a year ago.
Gildardo won the battle against cancer, but in the process lost his left arm and shoulder. Doctors removed the limb and joint because they feared the cancer would spread.
But Gildardo’s bubbly personality and big, bright smile divert attention from the left side of his body.
“I used to feel bad because my arm hurt all the time, but not anymore,” he said in Spanish. “I feel better now, because I don’t have pain anymore.”
Gildardo’s mother, Nancy Guzman, said learning her son had cancer was absolutely devastating.
“But the strongest one through all of this has been Gildardo,” she said in Spanish. “When he came out of surgery, when they had just removed his arm, he told me not to cry. He said that if he wasn’t crying, why should I be crying.”
Gildardo said he hasn’t stopped doing the things he did before he lost his arm — even playing his favorite video game, Zelda.
He uses his right hand and left foot to operate the game controller. And he said it only took him one day to learn how to do that.
Now that it has been more than a year since Gildardo’s arm was removed, he has hope of having an arm again.
The Guzman family lives in McAllen and said they searched the Rio Grande Valley for the best possible prosthetic arm, the cost of which will be paid by Medicaid.
That’s how they ended up in Doug Wacker’s office.
Wacker, a prosthetist/orthotist, owns Nutech Orthotics & Prosthetics in Harlingen. He said that in more than 27 years of practice in Houston at the Texas Medical Center, he has never seen a case like Gildardo’s.
Wacker has been working to create a “passive arm” for Gildardo, which will serve cosmetic purposes. But the work hasn’t been easy, Wacker said.
“No other 7-year-old has ever had one,” he said about Gildardo’s prosthesis. Wacker said he has called all over the nation, Canada and even Germany looking for the parts needed to make a prosthetic arm to fit Gildardo. Liberating Technologies Inc., of Holliston, Mass., custom-made the parts that Wacker needed to make the prosthesis for Gildardo. The artificial arm weighs about 4 pounds and is something to which Gildardo must become accustomed, Wacker said. “(The prosthetic arm) will be difficult getting used to because his center of gravity has changed,” Wacker said. “We’ll see how he does with this. I’m hoping that in the future he’ll be able to get a myoelectric prosthesis (with which) he’ll be able to control his elbow and hand through nerve impulses.”
Wacker expects Gildardo will use this prosthetic arm for about a year before exploring the possibilities of a more sophisticated one. Although Wacker is still making some adjustments to Gildardo’s initial prosthesis, the youngster could get the artificial appendage in as little as two weeks.
“This is a great feeling,” Wacker said about helping Gildardo. “This is what lets you sleep at night.”
The fitting for the prosthesis reminded Nancy Guzman that Gildardo and the whole family will have to go through a long process as he progresses to more sophisticated and functional prostheses.
“This won’t be the last step,” she said. “He’s going to have to adapt from one thing to the other and go from something simple to something more sophisticated. I know my expectations are big, but I’ve already seen that bionic arms and even human arm transplants are being done.”
Gildardo said he likes his prosthesis, because learning to control it and live with it once he takes it home will be like learning how to play a game.
“I don’t feel the same, but better,” Gildardo said as he left Wacker’s office.