By: Greta Cunningham
Photos by Callan Henrich

Seven-year-old Maria Renata Sanchez Diaz traveled 1,600 miles from her home in Mexico City to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare as part of her plan to keep a promise to her dad. 

Patient Maria Renata with her Mother Annette at Gillette children'sRenata, as her family calls her, came to Gillette with her mother in February 2016 and spends many hours receiving therapies and treatments in an effort to build strength to help manage her cerebral palsy

“It took us eight months to be approved to come to Gillette,” her mother Annettez Diaz says through Spanish interpreter, Andrea Zehrer. “Now that we’re here we’re doing everything we can to help Renata be the best she can be.” 

A neighbor in Mexico City told the Diaz family about Gillette and that prompted them to see if the Gillette team could evaluate Renata’s condition. “Renata had some therapy at home but there’s nothing like Gillette in Mexico,” Diaz says. 

Renata takes advantage of all Gillette has to offer and has an incredible focus and determination during her many therapy sessions. Through the interpreter, Renata says every day she thinks of the promise she made to her dad and that keeps her motivated.

“I promised my dad that one day I’ll walk on the beach with him,” Renata says.                 

Renata and her mother know it’ll take many months of hard work and, perhaps, some future surgeries before walking on the beach is a reality.

“I have to admit, before I came to Gillette I was like, ‘Renata is going to walk one day.  She’s going to walk!’ Now, after talking to the doctors and therapists I have come to terms with a different idea. Renata WILL walk but she’ll probably need a walker. Once she gets her walker she’ll be more independent. Coming here opened my eyes to other options,” Diaz says.

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Renata spends many hours a week with Gillette physical therapists and often uses a robotic device called the Lokomat® to improve her ability to walk.

“I have changed so much. Honestly, I have improved. I can now bend my legs. My steps are better. My posture is straighter. I can now stand by myself,” Renata exclaims. 

All four of Renata’s limbs are affected by cerebral palsy and she receives occupational therapy to learn daily living skills—such as dressing, feeding and grooming.  She also focuses on her small motors skills to improve her writing and hand control. She works with Kate Beuch, occupational therapist, and enjoys challenging her to a game of Connect Four. “I usually win!” Renata laughs. 

Maria Renata plays Connect Four at Gillette Childrens

It’s not all fun and games, Beuch helps Renata learn how to button a shirt and put on a T-shirt by herself. These activities are not easy for Renata and it takes great concentration to control her hands.

Maria Renata practices buttoning a shirt at Gillette children's

Her mother, Annette Diaz, says Renata is committed to working on her writing and often signs her name to postcards she sends to her family back in Mexico.

Maria Renata practices writing with her mother at Gillette Children's

Renata’s two older brothers and twin sister were part of one of her favorite therapy sessions. Renata likes the new aquatic (pool) therapy at Gillette.  A few weeks ago her siblings flew in for a visit and got to go in the pool with her. “It was so fun. We splashed around.  My poor brother was the most splashed—he was all wet,” Renata says with a smile.

Maria Renata and her mother, Annette, at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare

It’s clear Renata and her mother are grateful for the chance to come to Gillette. They will return next fall for follow-up appointments.

“Being here is my only opportunity to walk.  I’m going to get better. My wish is to walk with my dad,” Renata says.

“As long as I have my strong will and desire everything will be fine! This is what my parents try to teach me.”

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