Every time Amillian “Mimi” Villa dribbles a basketball, rides a bike, or cuts a piece of paper, she's defying the odds.
“She needed to learn to walk again after she was sick,” said Dr. Xiaofang Wei a pediatric physiatrist at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla.
Two years ago, when she was five, doctors feared Mimi might die. Her mother, Vanessa Villa, says Mimi's left arm started to hurt one day and began to rapidly swell, turning purple. At first, doctors suspected she had a bad cold and a sprained muscle.
They quickly determined she had Necrotizing fasciitis, known as flesh-eating disease, a rare infection that results in the death of parts of the body's soft tissue. They did not know how she got the infection, but it clearly was spreading fast.
“They did a few procedures in her arm where they had to remove dead tissue and muscle that was already infected. They did that a few times,” the girl’s mother said. “Then they told me they couldn’t try to save the arm, they had to try to save her life.”
After the amputation, Mimi was transferred from the Westchester County Medical Center to Blythedale Children’s Hospital. She's back at home in the Wakefield section of the Bronx but travels to Blythedale every weekday for occupational therapy, counseling, and day school. She’s also learning how to use her new prosthetic arm.
Doctors are amazed by her progress. “When I first met Mimi, she look traumatized at what she’s been through,” occupational therapist Kelly Milano said. “She had a hard time even looking up at me, making eye contact with me. She was very shy. She didn’t really want to come out of her room.”
Mimi is slowly learning to be a kid again and was gifted a therapeutic toy from a company called A Doll Like Me. It has one arm.
“Her name is Precious and she likes pink, purple, rose gold too,” Mimi said.
“This is a child that has been through something none of us have ever been through,” Vanessa said. “She makes the best out of everything and doesn’t complain.”
With Precious at her side, Mimi will learn how to use her prosthesis and eventually will learn how to use an advanced model that includes a joint which will give her even more independence.
“I play with her. I change her every day,” Mimi said. “In the night, I change her into her pajamas and I do her hair every morning.”
Mimi will continue to get her occupational therapy at the hospital, as well as math and reading lessons. The goal is to get her ready to one day attend community school.
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