Mary and her mother, also Mary, are from just outside Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. As her school friends were enjoying their summer vacations last August and thinking about the upcoming new school year, Mary was flying to New York for her operation, a procedure that was to entail a two month stay in the U.S. and school lessons in Manhattan rather than her home town.
Mary said just prior to her return to Ireland last week that she was feeling fine and walking faster.
“I love it here,” she said of New York and New Jersey.
But she was also looking forward to finally starting fifth grade, catching up on her favorite school subject, Irish, and reuniting with her dad, sister and two brothers.
The just concluded U.S. sojourn was Mary’s second in the U.S. but her operation was only one of a number during her short life. Doctors are confident that this latest one will prove a success.
Mary was born with a condition called developmental dysplasia of the hip or DDH. The condition is an abnormal formation of the hip joint that results in hip instability. As a result, the hip can slip in and out of position easily.
Untreated, the condition inevitably leads to premature arthritis and a life of extreme discomfort and pain. It can also lead to the development of unequal leg length and an abnormal gait, with, again, extremely painful consequences.
According to Mary’s mother, the condition went unnoticed during the first two years of Mary’s life.
“Mary was born with dislocated hips,” she said.
Beginning from age 2, Mary underwent a series of operations on both her hips. These operation could not correct the instability and it seemed that Mary had run out of options.
But a visitor from America was to provide Mary and her family with renewed hope.
Pat Connelly, from New Jersey, is a volunteer with the charity Healing the Children. In was on a visit to County Monaghan to visit relatives that Connelly became aware of Mary McNally’s seemingly untreatable condition.
Healing the Children agreed to take on Mary’s case and Dr. Roger Widmann of the Hospital for Special Surgery, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, waived all surgical expenses.
Mary came to the U.S. last year for an initial operation on her more treatable right hip. That first operation was on her pelvic joint. She stayed in the U.S. for three months.
She arrived back on Aug. 11 of this year for the second part of her treatment. This time her femur bone was the focus of the procedure.
“She’s doing very well and walking an awful lot better. The doctors and the hospital were just wonderful,” Mary’s mother said. “She’s a very good patient. She responds well and gets over pain very quickly.”
During her stay, Mary took in the sights in both New York and New Jersey. She also met with New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey.
As well as spending recovery time in New Jersey with Connelly, the McNallys also stayed in the Manhattan apartment of another Healing the Children volunteer, Terri Cook.
Mary is expected to return to New York for a check up in about another year.
According to Dr. Widmann, Mary’s reconstructed right hip should last until late adulthood.
“Possibly a lifetime,” he said.
Mary’s left hip now has the bigger question mark over it. Four operations in Ireland could not put it back into its socket and a cast iron cure for its inherent weakness is unlikely now given Mary’s age.
Kids, as a rule, do not get full hip replacements. That’s for much later in life.
“Arthritis in Mary’s left hip is probably inevitable but there’s no pain at the moment and she will be able to do sports,” said Dr. Widmann, who added that Mary had been a great patient.
The McNallys were a “wonderful family,” he said.
Mary McNally felt much the same about those who cared for her and her daughter during the last couple of months.
“There are so many lovely people who have helped us here, and helped us spontaneously. We would never have been here only for them. But right now we’re looking forward to a big family reunion,” she said.
One in which young Mary will be able to dance for joy — if she so chooses.