Post readers give teen a leg up, family a Christmas to remember

Frank Doss, left, watches Niva Louissaint get help with her prosthetic leg from Matt Bailey as Edel Amores, far right, watches at Florida O&P Services on Friday, Jan. 4 in West Palm Beach.

Photography by Greg Lovett

A prosthetic leg may not sound like the ideal stocking stuffer, but 19-year-old Niva Louissaint has been wrangling with one that is no longer the perfect fit and the promise of something better was just one of the gifts that have made this holiday stand out.

The Santaluces High student has had a calamitous year, contending not only with the cancer that took her left leg and threatens her lungs, but also a litany of other health problems – both her own and those plaguing her mother, brothers and father.

As Niva and her younger brother, Stanley, suffering the effects of sickle cell disease, tag-teamed holiday time laid up in the hospital, Palm Beach Post readers pulled together a Christmas to remember for the Louissaint family.

They were one of nine nominees featured in The Post’s annual Season to Share campaign.

A budding photographer, Niva has a new cell phone she has already employed to document a visit to Santa’s winter wonderland at the Mall of Wellington Green and no small amount of selfies.

Her teachers chipped in to donate a new laptop. Readers everywhere came through with grocery money, gift cards to fuel the teen’s sneaker fetish. And Matt Bailey, a man The Post once dubbed “The Leg Man,” invited Niva to his prosthetic workshop off 45th street – a stop she made Friday.

Bailey took measure of her leg, her somewhat leaning gait and talked to her about what could be done to ease her discomfort. He plans to mold a new leg in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, he had a few handy tips, such as sneakers pop on and off the prosthetic more readily when a sock goes on first and, when trying to slip on those skinny-leg jeans, try sliding one of those plastic grocery bags over the prosthetic’s tip first.

For the first time, Niva also met a few fellow amputees of her age. Edel Amores, 20, who lost his right leg below the knee in a motorcycle crash, and Ronesha Johnson, 23, who was broadsided as she was getting into a car.

“We have the same struggles. That was cool,” Niva said, welcoming the affirmation.

Ronesha Johnson, left, laughs with Niva during a visit to Florida O&P Services.
Ronesha Johnson, left, laughs with Niva during a visit to Florida O&P Services.

Niva’s challenges extend beyond her missing limb. Everyone in her home has sickle cell. Her mother’s kidneys are failing. Stanley requires monthly blood transfusions. Some weeks, her father Louicene Louissaint, 51, and her older brother, Kerlens, 22, spend more time on the road ferrying the family to doctor appointments than they do at work or home.

The reprieve offered from Season to Share donations was welcome, Niva said.

She was able to have a birthday party with girlfriends – no grownups – at a hibachi grill restaurant. The littlest brother now cruises their house on his new bike. The boys now have a new bedroom set.

“Niva said it was the best time she’d had in so long,” said Teri Moran, executive director of the Connor Moran Children’s Cancer Foundation who nominated Niva and her family. Next stop, a driver license. “Thank goodness for Season to Share. It was an answer to prayers.”

Friday afternoon, Niva was reveling in a few hours away from home and hospital. After meeting with Bailey, she sat with her laptop at a Starbucks, studying for her driving test and downing a frothy drink.

Season to Share is a partnership with the Community Foundation and connects families and people in need with donors who can help. Donations are still being accepted at yourcommunityfoundation.org/seasontoshare.