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Doctor offers alternative to leg amputation

March 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A controversial procedure is the only option for patients born with a rare leg condition. They've got a type of deformity in their legs that require a painful lengthening treatment and doctors are using this medical breakthrough to help these patients. Imagine doctors telling you or your child that amputation is your only option. That's the reality for some kids born with leg deformities. But there is another choice. One doctor is working to give these children a treatment that allows them to keep their legs.

Kelly Lockett doesn't miss a step when browsing for her next purchase even though this 13-year-old has depended on one leg her entire life. She was born with the bone behind her shin missing which left her in a condition that deformed her foot and shortened her leg.

Doctors told her mom that amputation was the best option.

"We were told that she would have psychological scars from all the surgeries and therefore we should amputate," said Kelly's mom.

But Dr. Dror Paley has been working to correct limb deformities and injuries without amputation.

"Although it's more surgery, you end up with your own leg," said Dr. Paley.

He broke her shin bone and implanted a metal fixator that was worn for eight months. It is designed to slowly lengthen the bone one millimeter a day.

"What's happening in the lengthening is every single day, you're pulling the bone apart," explained Dr. Paley. "The bone is a living substance. It makes new bone to fill in. Where you break it you're pulling it apart and it makes new bone to fill that gap."

Patients have to consider risks like pain, nerve damage, bone infection and failure of bone healing.

"During the lengthening it was painful," said Kelly. "I've never thought I don't want to do this."

Kelly's leg is now 10 inches longer than it would have been without the surgeries. Julie Nichols, 23, is hoping for similar results. She's in for three surgeries and almost a year of therapy but says her goal will keep her going.

"After these surgeries, my goal is to run a marathon," said Julie.

Dr. Paley is one of three surgeons in the U.S. who perform the more complicated surgeries like Kelly's. Patients come in regularly for X-rays to track the affected bone's progress and go through intense physical therapy throughout the whole process.