Keenan Petersen, an 18-year-old born with a rare genetic condition that affected his limbs, has achieved the remarkable feat of walking upright, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Sietse Wouters, an orthopaedic surgeon at Netcare Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg.
Keenan was born with shortened arms, a missing hip joint, and a missing femur in his right leg. At just 15 days old, he came under the care of Dr. Wouters, who recognized the uniqueness of his case. Driven by his commitment to innovation, Dr. Wouters conducted extensive research and consulted with international colleagues to determine the best surgical approach.
In the early days, doctors believed Keenan might never walk. However, his indomitable spirit and determination led him to find his own way of moving, shuffling on his bum. Keenan embraced his condition, describing himself as “differently-abled” and refusing to let it hold him back.
In 2016, Keenan’s growing pains led him back to Dr. Wouters. His unique walking style, with a steeply bent left knee, caused an abnormal curvature of the spine known as positional scoliosis. To address this, a series of surgeries, including a Steel’s Ilio-femoral fusion and a Syme amputation, were performed. These procedures enabled Keenan to use a prosthesis and walk upright.
Keenan’s mother, Rowena Cohen, expressed gratitude to Dr. Wouters, referring to him as their “guardian angel.” She praised the dedication and commitment of the surgeon, emphasizing the significant improvements in Keenan’s posture and mobility as a result of the operations.
Recently, Keenan celebrated a significant milestone by attending his matric dance at the Hope School in Westcliffe—a moment that seemed improbable years ago.
Dr. Wouters highlighted Keenan’s exceptional growth as a young man and credited the South African private healthcare system for enabling specialists to work with patients over an extended period, ultimately enhancing their quality of life in complex cases like Keenan’s.
Keenan, currently in matric, has aspirations to pursue a career in Information Technology, demonstrating his determination to overcome challenges and achieve his goals. His story stands as a testament to medical innovation, unwavering support from his mother, and his own indomitable spirit.