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Young girls like Ana learn certain chores before they reach puberty. She had mastered the art of cleaning, cooking and caring for a household of men long before there was a need.

HECTIC DAYS: Roberto Garcia Serrano, 38, a recycling plant worker who was injured on the job, takes over household duties while his wife, Ana, grapples with post-surgery depression and feelings of isolation. Roberto struggles to put on Tito's shoe while Daniel, left, exhibits his frustration at his younger brother's inability to hold still.

Like the dancer she yearned to be, her legs, arms and torso had learned to move in perfect rhythm. But now her body had been damaged, and what remained was more fragile than before. Ana wasn't sure if she would ever learn a new cadence.

That was the challenge she would have to confront at Tustin Rehabilitation Hospital.

Minutes after being settled into her room, she asked for a shower. She'd received only sponge baths while in intensive care. And her waist-length hair had rarely been washed. She felt unkempt and utterly unfeminine.

Ana stayed in the shower more than an hour. A good sign, Dr. Virginia Garrett, then medical director, noted on her chart. Many who lose limbs neglect their hygiene and health. They give up.

Not Ana. No matter how hard Garrett and physical therapist Irene Teh pushed, Ana pushed harder.

Most days, she was up by 6 a.m. She learned to heave herself from her wheelchair to a shower stool. She bathed, ate, then wheeled down the long hallway to the physical therapy room.

First it was home training: taking clothes from the washer and dryer with a long prong. Hopping from her chair to a mattress to make the bed. Balancing on a short, metallic leg to cook.

Then it was weight-lifting exercises to strengthen her arms, and mat exercises to learn to control what remained of her leg.

It was frustrating, exhausting, repetitious work. Ana threw herself into it as if her life depended on it. And maybe, in a way, it did.

Soon Ana was maneuvering her chair up and down curbs and over rough sidewalks. Each success brought her closer to the day of her release.

Occasionally, humor lightened the struggle, revealing an impish charm beneath the iron will.

Unused to the casual way therapists spoke of bodily functions and sex, Ana tried to duck the frank talks. When Dr. Garrett strode into the room, she dove beneath the bedsheets until a playful tug-of-war forced her out.

Ana had only two questions: Could she still be intimate with her husband? And could she have more children? The answers to both were yes.

Relieved, she waved aside further discussion to concentrate on her main goal: learning to walk.

Garrett encouraged her healthy obsession. She'd seen patients with bilateral amputations walk with the aid of artificial legs and canes. It took great will, limitless patience and loyal support from family -- items Ana had in abundance, she said.

That was enough for Ana. If it could be done, she would do it.

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