Young girl wishes to walk on her own
By Glenn Garvin The Miami Herald

While most little girls her age might want a toy, Noa Carmel just wants to go for a walk.




By Glenn Garvin
ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com


“Show our visitor your braces, Noa,” her mom urges. And Noa Carmel, who at 22 months of age hasn’t quite entered the dreaded Terrible Twos demographic, obediently complies, tugging up the legs of her tiny black leggings to reveal the tangle of straps and harnesses beneath. But the sweet smile she wore moments ago is dissolving into bleak despair while her eyes cloud with tears.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’re not taking the braces off, we just want to see them,” Jordana Carmel, 28, hastily reassures her daughter, whose tears stop but eyes remain wary. Jordana turns to her guest. “Noa hates to take off the braces,” she explains apologetically. “She knows once we do that, she can’t stand up anymore.”
Meet Noa Carmel: Fashion adventuress. (Favorite color: “Pupple.”) Unabashed girly-girl. (Favorite toy: “My bay-bees!” she declares, waving a doll in the air.) And seasoned veteran of the war on cancer.
Just 18 months after doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on her spine that left her paralyzed from the chest down, Noa zips around the patio behind her parents’ Aventura townhouse with a wheeled walker. She can stand at her toy stove to whip up a savory pan of sautéed air, swing her foot at a soccer ball, even ride her brother’s stand-up scooter.
“I hate it when she does that,” confesses Jordana of the scooter rides. “But we don’t like to tell her she can’t do things. So my husband is on one side of her and I’m on the other, but we make it happen for her.”
It is staggering progress for a little girl who, doctors feared, would never move again of her own accord. They found the neuroblastoma on her spine after Jordana and her husband Rotem, 32, frantically brought Noa to the hospital, terrified because their normally placid infant suddenly couldn’t stop screaming.
She did, soon after arriving at the hospital, but that wasn’t good news. Noa’s pain was gone only because the tumor’s pressure on her spinal column had cut off all sensation to her lower body. After emergency surgery to decompress her spine, doctors warned Noa’s parents of the worst-case scenario — though they admitted they had little understanding of her case.
Neuroblastomas are rare in children, with only about 650 cases a year in the United States. Of those, only about 1 percent are found on the spine. And the number of spinal neuroblastomas in infants is about as close to nil as you can get outside the world of abstract mathematics.
“The doctors couldn’t really tell us anything,” says Jordana. “She’s practically a one-person sample in every category. There’s almost no existing research on her exact situation, because the doctors say there are maybe 10 kids in the world like her.”
That meant therapy to restore some of Noa’s mobility was hit-or-miss at first. Luckily, there were a lot more hits than misses, especially after the Carmels began taking their daughter to the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. Though Noa at first wasn’t even able to sit up, an aggressive course of assisted exercise, aqua therapy and electrical stimulation of her withering muscles soon produced results.
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