Determined to Dance: 80-Year-Old Renews His Favorite Pastime Thanks to Prosthetic Leg

Angel Alpaca, age 80, loves to dance.

Whether in his native Peru, or back in Cleveland where he and wife Raquel also maintain a home, he is as well-renowned for circling the dance floor as he is for his infectious personality.

Often, at the Hispanic Senior Center,  he and Raquel – who have been married for 43 years — will step nimbly through a romantic waltz, or even a traditional Peruvian huayno. It’s one of their favorite things to do, together.

“It is a way to show our love, to connect to each other,” explained Angel, through an interpreter. “We express our feelings through dancing and singing.”

Angel and his wife, Raquel, dance at a physical therapy appointment. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

And Angel wasn’t about to let the loss of his lower left leg, amputated in Peru last December due to complications from diabetes and infection, keep him and Raquel from their beloved pastime. Angel was originally outfitted with a poorly-fitting prosthesis. Since he studied engineering in his youth, he tried to craft a new one on his own.

RELATED: Bionic Prosthetic Arm Restores Sensation for Marine Veteran

Still struggling when he and Raquel returned to Cleveland in February, Angel obtained a new, better-fitting prosthesis – and was referred to Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation & Sports Therapy at Lakewood YMCA to learn how to use it.

Mary Yee, a physical therapy assistant who worked with Angel over the ensuing five months, fondly recalled his first visit: “Angel was in a wheelchair, holding his new leg. From the beginning, he told us he wanted to be able to dance again.”

Physical Therapy Assistant Mary Yee checks on Angel’s leg. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Of course, Angel had to walk first before he could dance. During his twice-weekly visits, he never hesitated to do whatever Mary prescribed … and then some.

“He motivated us,” recalled Mary, who treated Angel alongside fellow therapist Christine Donaldson. “If we asked him to do an exercise 20 times, he would do 25. Angel always inspired us to help him get to the next level.”

RELATED: Rare Surgery After Cancer Saves Young Boy’s Leg

As Angel explained, he’s always had the willpower to overcome any obstacle – even learning how to walk, and dance again, at age 80: “No matter the adversity, you always have to try hard. To win.”

And the winning moment — for Angel, Raquel, Mary and other observers — occurred just a few months later. Armed with a recording of some of their favorite music, the Alpacas danced before a rapt and emotional audience. While a lack of flexibility in his ankle meant Angel couldn’t glide across the floor with his customary grace, his proud grin indicated that his months of hard work had paid off.

Angel and Raquel dance during a physical therapy appointment. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

“He showed us he can dance again,” Mary remarked. “It’s so rewarding to see someone achieve their goals and be self-sufficient.”

Follow @CleClinicNews on Twitter for the latest stories on inspiring patients, medical innovation and breakthrough research.