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Graduate true to herself through battle with joint condition

Updated May 27, 2018 - 3:08 pm

Socks and shoes are among the things that could have blocked Jessica Lindley’s path toward college.

For the 18-year-old Las Vegan, daily tasks such as putting on footwear require extra effort.

Still, it could’ve been worse. Had it not been for 17 surgeries by specialists outside Nevada — and help from Miracle Flights, the Las Vegas-based nonprofit that paid her way to get to those doctors — Lindley may not have been able to walk across the stage Thursday to receive her high school diploma.

This fall, the Veterans Tribute Career and Technical Academy honors graduate will attend Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, where she’ll study chemistry.

Lindley has battled the rare joint condition arthrogryposis since birth. A local doctor began fitting Lindley, at three days old, with casts to try to correct her curved joints, Jessica’s mom, Rebecca Lindley, said.

But the Las Vegas doctor had only ever treated a handful of patients with Lindley’s condition.

“And I just said that’s not enough,” Rebecca Lindley said.

So, as the adage goes, the Lindleys sought care via McCarran International Airport, as a lack of local specialists well-versed in arthrogryposis convinced the family to seek treatment out of state.

Arthrogryposis affects about 1 in 3,000, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where Lindley received care for several years. It can affect every joint in severe cases, and in Lindley’s case, her arms and legs.

“It makes everyday life a bit of a struggle, getting around in the able-bodied world, but I’ve managed to figure out my way around it,” said Lindley, a Vegas Golden Knights fan with dreams of becoming a 911 dispatcher.

Surgeries at the former Shriners Hospitals for Children in Los Angeles and at Seattle Children’s Hospital have helped correct her joint contractures. She was transported with the help of Miracle Flights, which flies children and their families to medical facilities nationwide.

“We like to say we have a cure for distance,” Miracle Flights CEO Mark Brown said. “We hear every day from parents who are just very grateful for the opportunity to be able to go find hope and give their child a chance.”

Since her first flight at 17 days old, Lindley has traveled with the organization, which places its recipients on commercial flights, 34 times, Brown said. Lindley will fly with Miracle Flights for the 35th time to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on June 14, and will probably need another flight if she’s approved for a surgery on her hip and knee.

The help was life-changing, said Lindley, who wouldn’t be able to walk or write if she hadn’t had the procedures. Nor would she have been able to enjoy archery — she shoots arrows with her mouth, thanks to help and imagination from an instructor at Pacific Archery in Las Vegas.

“If Miracle Flights wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have been able to get the medical care that I have gotten,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go out of state to have all the surgeries I have had … so I don’t know if I would be as good off as I am today if it wasn’t for Miracle Flights.”

Seven Miracle Flights representatives attended Lindley’s graduation at Orleans Arena on Thursday, to see off the young woman they’d met as a little girl.

Jessica Lindley Las Vegas Review-Journal
Jessica Lindley, center, poses with her family and members of Miracle Flight following her commencement ceremony at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday, May 24, 2018. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph

They held up a poster with “Congrats Jessica” written in green and pink marker as she walked across the stage in a white robe and accepted her diploma, which she earned with advanced honors.

“What we do is lifesaving for some of these children,” said Miracle Flights’ senior executive assistant Vanessa Moreno. “It’s just amazing to see the young woman she has become.”

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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