KNOWN IN REAL LIFE AS:
Meet Bow Girl at the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon & Team Relay
on September 29.
View a course map.
Meet Bow Girl
Tessa Puma, Age 7, from Northfield, Ohio
Why Tessa is an #ACHero: Tessa underwent more than a dozen surgeries, including a leg amputation and skin grafts, when a rare infection spread throughout her body. With only a 20% chance of survival, Tessa not only survived, but also overcame the challenges of walking and dancing on a prosthesis through hours of therapy and ceaseless determination.
When she’s not busy overcoming obstacles: When Tessa isn’t dancing, she enjoys riding her bike, playing softball and having fun with her friends.
Did you know fact: Tessa is a dancer and, at age 5, was the youngest member to make the competitive team at Center Stage dance studio. Tessa has traveled to Michigan and Pennsylvania with her dance trio to compete and they’ve placed 1st overall in every competition.
Tessa’s story: The first thing you might notice about Tessa Puma is the large bow in her hair or maybe her mega-watt smile, but what’s most remarkable about Tessa is her sheer determination – as a dancer and as a young amputee.
During the spring of her kindergarten year, active and energetic Tessa came down with flu-like symptoms and a fever. After an ER visit, some rest and ibuprofen, her parents thought she’d be back to herself soon. But then came the leg pain, another ER visit and a one-in-a-million diagnosis.
“When she was admitted into the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), she was hallucinating and you could see swelling in her leg from her calf down. Her ankle had creases in it so you couldn’t see her bone,” said Matt Puma, Tessa’s dad. “She was admitted March 31 and woke up from a medically-induced comma on April 5 unable to fully understand what we were telling her.”
Tessa was diagnosed with a rare infection caused by strep throat called necrotizing fasciitis, which spread throughout her body. It occurs in one in a million children each year, and Tessa’s odds of beating it were slim.
The infection travelled into Tessa’s bloodstream and moved to her left leg, as well as other parts of her body including her left arm, shoulder and back. The aggressive bacteria killed tissue, skin and muscle in the process.
“The doctors had to remove the infection…once they got into her surgery they could see her entire leg was filled up with infection. The muscle was just gray,” said Matt.
The infection took over 30% of her body, and she was given a 20% chance of survival.
“It was a scary time because we didn’t know if she’d have brain damage,” said Matt. “They put her in a medically-induced comma. She was hooked up to all kinds of equipment, had blood transfusions, an amputation, skin grafts and even went into septic shock.”
Part of Tessa’s treatment included having more than a dozen surgeries, including above the knee amputation, painful skin graft procedures and muscle removal from her shoulder and arm. Her family was worried if dancing would be too difficult on her leg and if she’d regain full motion in her arm.
As her body began to recover, Tessa began physical therapy that included the painful process of stretching out the skin grafts in her arm and extending the muscles in her shoulder. It also included building back strength and flexibility in her leg. Therapy was intimidating and hard, but with the support of family, therapists and the hospital’s Doggie Brigade members and Petie the Pony, she was determined to get through it.
Tessa had to relearn how to walk. At her first therapy session, she could barely stand. After 3 weeks of inpatient therapy and 3 weeks of outpatient therapy – both 5 days a week for more than 6 hours a day – she went from a wheelchair to a walker to walking on a temporary prosthesis.
“She’s amazing. Just amazing. The odds weren’t in her favor, but she never let up. She kept working, kept thriving,” said Matt. “She also practiced every single day at home with a dance video game to build back her strength and balance. It really helped her figure out her new leg on her own…in her own time.”
Today, Tessa has follow-up appointments with Dr. Patrick Riley, Jr. to check on her amputation as she grows. She continues with therapy closer to home and is excelling academically, playing softball and dancing on stage, even doing cartwheels and almost back handsprings!
“She’s still a ray of sunshine and still so positive,” said Matt. “She has kept us positive through everything…so to see her take that stage and do what she does now is just amazing.”