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Ana was through playing the stranger in her own home. She was bored of the soap operas she used to crave. She was exasperated with the way Roberto did her chores Ð out of order. But most of all, Ana was heartsore at having surrendered her children to relatives and friends.

FIRST STEP: Ana stands on two legs for the first time since doctors amputated her left leg to the pelvis, and her right to the thigh. She also lost her right middle finger. Kolman Prosthetics donated the artificial legs to Ana after hearing her story in the news.


"You wait and see," she told Roberto one morning as Tito clung to him. "Three weeks. And these boys will run to me."

"And me?" he asked, hesitantly.

Ana smiled softly.

"Two weeks."

Home wasn't the only thing Ana was determined to win back. It was the rest of her life Ð and walking again, she believed, was a big part of that.

When Alex Freire -- a Whittier prosthetist who had offered to construct her $25,000 new legs for free -- came by a couple of days later, Ana met him at the door, dressed and ready to go. Today, for the first time, she would practice on both limbs at once.

At Kolman Prosthetics, while Fidel and Daniel stood on tiptoe to watch, Freire adjusted the prosthetics on Ana.

The legs were short to give her better control and balance. They were constructed of light titanium and graphite to help Ana maneuver them more easily. He and aide Juan Llamas-Nunez had fashioned an Ultralite body mold to wrap around Ana's waist and cup the tiny remnant of her left leg. It allowed Ana to use her torso to swing the limb forward.

After a morning of painstaking cuttings and tightenings, there came the moment Ana had been waiting for. She lurched up on both legs. Fidel and Daniel automatically stationed themselves behind and in front of her in case of a fall. No one chided them, sensing the boys' support was necessary to Ana.

Hands gripping the bars, Ana bit her lip and slowly, forcefully, pushed her right leg forward. Then she sucked in a breath, heaved her body to the right and dragged the other leg up.

Ana had taken her first step.

Freire and Llamas-Nunez grinned. She smiled back.

"Didn't I tell you, you would walk again?" Freire asked her.

"I told you!" she tossed back.

Freire had a surprise for Ana on her next visit: A tan-tinted foam leg. The polyurethane coverings would fit over Ana's metallic limbs, once she completed a yearlong adjustment to them.

Ana's eyes widened. She stretched a tentative finger. The lifelike leg puckered and relaxed like skin. She raised shining eyes.

"So real," she whispered. Freire nodded and smiled.

The foam creation touched a chord of feminine pride Ana thought she had sacrificed on the operating table. She considered the color stockings that might best match her skin tone. Suntan? Nude? Taupe?

It was an optimistic Ana who chattered with Freire on the ride home.

Once back in Anaheim, Freire and Roberto talked quietly on the porch about her progress. The boys played loudly nearby.

At last, Ana had a moment alone. She wheeled herself indoors and flicked on the stereo. One of her favorite cumbias floated through the room. She closed her eyes, swayed in her wheelchair -- and smiled.

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