SAN DIEGO COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Jessica Esquivel, Model for Us All

In a time when medical science routinely accomplishes the astonishing, there are occasional, humbling reminders that all the sophisticated technology of healing can depend on something so elemental as a child's will to persevere.

How else to view the inspiring recovery of 6-year-old Jessica Lynn Esquivel, victim of a freak illness that cost her both arms and legs? Sent home twice by Chula Vista's Scripps Memorial Hospital and once by a private pediatrician, the Imperial Beach child entered Sharp Memorial Hospital April 1, afflicted, doctors believed, with nothing more than a case of the chickenpox.

Within hours, however, her fever had reached 104 degrees and blood circulation to her limbs had ceased. She suffered full cardiac arrest and complete respiratory, kidney and liver failure. A rare, virulent infection had turned to toxic shock. Doctors saved her life, but 17 days later they were forced to amputate her arms at the elbows and her legs at the knees.

Jessica left Children's Hospital & Health Center in June, fitted with prostheses. Monday, this determined child demonstrated her mastery of the hardware that will provide a reasonably normal life. She stands, writes, draws and dresses herself. She has begun to walk again.

The ironic consequence of medical advances that rescue children like Jessica is that we must send them home and ask that they adapt--showing courage, patience and self-discipline that would tax able-bodied adults far older and more mature. To our wonder, they do.

The survival and flourishing of this brave little girl is the kind of story that makes whole communities vicariously proud. Not just because our talented physicians and modern equipment brought her back from near death or because we have succeeded in assembling a network of therapists who will help her cope with a lifelong struggle. But by enduring the unthinkable for these past few months, Jessica has shown just how much we all are capable of.

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