SLIDELL - Alissa Nootz is a little girl with a big heart and an infectious smile.
The Slidell 3-year-old has cerebral palsy but is now learning to walk on her own. Her mother, Janine Nootz, called her daughter "a fighter."
"She just goes with it," Nootz said. "That's her personality. She wants to do it. She'll keep fighting, keeps pushing."
The chances of Alissa walking independently just got a lot better. Six weeks ago, she had life-changing surgery.
Dr. T.S. Park, a neurosurgeon at St. Louis Children's Hospital, cut some of her sensory nerves. That relieved muscle stiffness or spasticity caused by CP in both of Alissa's legs. Alissa said the surgeon removed a “dragon” that prevented her from walking.
"(Took) the dragon out out of my leg," Alissa said.
"What did the dragon do to your leg?" her mother asked.
"It tightened my legs up," Alissa responded.
Alissa's mother admitted her daughter has a lot of physical and occupational therapy ahead to strengthen her leg muscles.
Right now, she can't stand up on her own or walk without a walker.
"I'm just thankful for her bright future," Nootz said. "I'm really thankful for the possibility for her to go where she can go is there for her now."
Physical therapist Melissa Pettavino at Innovative Suit Therapy & Fitness in Covington said Alissa is already more fluid in her motions.
"She's able to more easily stand up to her walker, even stop start and turn in her walker," Pettavino said. "She's able to take steps more easily."
Allisa's mother said her daughter's progress so far is amazing.
"It just makes you want to, you know, well up and just (get) excited," Nootz said.
It may take a while, but the hope is one day Alissa will be able to keep up with her twin sister Claire. Their mother said that anything is possible thanks to the surgery.
"It's catching on," Nootz said. "I can see the spark in her eyes now. She's realizing her opportunities are there."
Alissa gets closer to her goal with every step she takes.