Divya’s journey from India for selective dorsal rhizotomy, rehabilitation highlights successful collaboration between Mary Free Bed, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

Divya Harkema has a joy-filled smile that melts hearts and the power of love from a young mother intent on creating the best life for her daughter.

Five-year-old Divya was born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, which affects her legs. She was living at Sarah’s Covenant Homes, an organization in Hyderabad, India, that provides group foster care for children with disabilities. That’s where she and Merissa Harkema met.

Merissa, 27, is a Hudsonville, Michigan native who moved to Hyderabad after she completed graduate school. An occupational therapist, Merissa wanted to use her skills to help children in need and began working at Sarah’s Covenant Homes. She also decided to become a family to a child without one, and chose to adopt Divya.

Long before the adoption was final, Merissa began researching if Divya would be a candidate for selective dorsal rhizotomy. The life-changing procedure to reduce muscle spasticity and improve movement is offered at a limited number of children’s hospitals in the United States.

“As I researched, I realized this surgery would help Divya’s mobility and joint health more than any treatment I could obtain for her in India,” Merissa said. “I was determined to find a way for her to receive it as soon as possible, not years down the road when she would reap less benefit from it.

“Divya had already missed out on so much care the first years of her life. I couldn’t bear for this surgery to be yet another thing she needed but couldn’t receive. I am so thankful to everyone who responded to Divya’s need and gave us hope, even though we were half a world away.”

This video chronicles the journey that brought Divya and Merissa from India to Grand Rapids, where the procedure was performed Sept. 21 at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Three days later, Divya transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and participated in eight weeks of specialized, intensive rehabilitation. The video also highlights the important collaborative partnership between the two hospitals.

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