Five Months for 50 Years

After many months of thought, discussion and prayer I’ve decided to undergo leg lengthening surgery for a second time.

A little background for those of you who don’t know – I was born with what’s basically a birth defect. My right leg grew slower and is smaller than my left leg. By the time I was in 5th grade, my right leg was about 4 ½ inches shorter than my left leg. I wore a 4 inch lift on my shoe. It never really stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do, but it was certainly bothersome.

Image This is me with my Grandma when I was 3 or 4. Notice the lift on my right shoe.

In May of 1996 when I was 11 years old, I underwent leg lengthening surgery. It was the most painful experience of my life. An external fixator with pins was surgically installed onto my leg. We basically “cranked” it once a day, which pulled my bones apart slowly. After about 3 months I had gained around 3 inches of length. Then my bone had to heal. I wore the fixator for 6 months total. From the time I had the surgery in May, I went from a wheelchair to crutches to a cane. It was one full year until I could walk again on my own. During this time I also had to go through many intense hours of painful physical therapy to keep my knee and ankle from losing flexibility. It was a very emotional time for me and my family, but it was a success and – looking back now – certainly worth the pain.

Image This is what the external fixator looked like the first time I had surgery. Here I’m walking during physical therapy at the hospital. (Somehow this picture got inverted. I swear the thing was on my right leg!)

Over the next few years, I continued to grow. By the time I was full grown (at a staggering 5’1”), my right leg ended up about 2 ½ inches shorter than my left. That was certainly much better than the possible 5 inches, had I not had the surgery at all, but still quite a bit short. For the past 16 years, I have worn a 1 inch lift on all of my right shoes.

Through my high school and college years I never considered having surgery again to gain the rest of the length. How could I take time out of my busy/amazing life? It never felt like an option to miss homecoming, summer fun or football season.

Over the past two years, the shortness of my leg began to bother me more. It’s like if you put a book under just one of your feet and tried to stand comfortably. You have to point your other foot, tilt your hips or bend your leg to stand even. That’s what I have to do all the time. The difference also gives me some back pain from having to contort my body. Not to mention that lift I spoke about above costs at least $50 for every pair of shoes I buy.  Not a small investment. Plus I can’t just wear any shoes I want. I’m limited to what a lift can be attached to. Oh, and all of the right legs of my pants need to be hemmed higher than the left side, as well.

Image This is my most recent x-ray. You can see that everything from my hip down is smaller on the right side. Notice how my femur is also shorter. I’m standing on about 2 inches of blocks on the right side for this x-ray.

I’ve come to realize it’s a now or never situation with this surgery. If I’m going to do it, it needs to happen before the potential next big steps in my life like getting married or having kids. Also, with my career, I never know where or when I’ll be moving. Right now, I know Chattanooga will be my home at least through 2012. My parents are at a place in their lives where they can rearrange their schedules and take time off to do this with me. They will be sacrificing a lot to support me through this time and I can’t even begin to describe how blessed I feel to have them in my life.

I have scheduled surgery for March 27th at The International Center for Limb Lengthening in Baltimore. I have been seeing the same doctor I worked with 16 years ago – Dr. John Herzenberg.

What does this entail? Unlike last time I had surgery, we will only be lengthening my femur and not the bottom part of my leg. On the day of my surgery, the doctor will hollow out the marrow from my femur and slide a rod inside my bone. Then on the outside, I will have some external rods and partial halos attached to pins that will be drilled into my bone. Then, they’ll break my femur. Over the next two months, I’ll use a wrench and turn a bolt that will pull the pins and my bone apart at 1 millimeter a day. There are 25 millimeters in an inch and I need at least 2 inches – maybe a bit more. So we will be lengthening for at least 50 days. After we have all the length we need, the doctor will remove the external device, but leave the rod inside my bone (supposedly I won’t even know it’s in there). Then the 2 inch gap in my bone will have to heal. Bone regenerates, so it will fill in on its own. In 8 to 10 weeks after we stop lengthening, it should be healed and I can begin to put all my weight on it. Dr. Herzenberg says I could be walking on my own without crutches and with two legs the same length in four to five months from the time I have the surgery. During this whole time I will have to go through physical therapy to keep flexibility in my knee, hip and ankle.

I will need to take some time off of work and plan to go on short term disability for the most intense part of my lengthening, physical therapy and recovery. During that time I plan to live in Pittsburgh under the care of my parents.

By no means am I in a life or death situation. If this surgery was not available, I could live out the rest of my life and deal with the small challenges my leg presents – being happy and complete. But this surgery is available and it will make my life better. It will be hard and it will hurt and it will be a very challenging time for me and my family, but many times you have to do unpleasant and painful things now to improve your life in the long-run. This is one of those times. I am grateful to my 11-year-old self for having the surgery 16 years ago. And 16 years from now, when I’m 43 with two legs the same length and normal shoes, I think I’ll be thankful to my 27-year-old self for doing this now. I’m sacrificing 5 months to make the next 50 years better.

Your thoughts and prayers are welcomed! Thanks for being interested in my life and I promise to keep you updated!

Joshua 1: 9 “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”


17 thoughts on “Five Months for 50 Years

  1. Beautiful story, beautiful Girl! Uncle Don and I are looking forward to the next courageous chapter. Love you. Aunt Carole

  2. So proud of you Flynn! It’s going to be amazing to watch you go through this journey. If you need anything we would be glad to help!

  3. I will miss watching you on TV. I met you a couple of times at Chattanooga Billiards . Stay strong and I will be praying for you. you will be even more beautiful !

    stay strong

  4. God is a miracle worker and He still has plans for you. I will pray daily that you will have the perfect surgery with a speedy recovery.

  5. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey and educating those of us who were naive to this, and who care,
    You are blessed asall who read your posts and blogs are.
    Looking forward to good news from you soon! Hugs!

  6. Thanks for sharing this journey with us. I will keeo you, your family, and doctors in my prayers. Can’t wait to see you back on TV.

  7. Hello Carly! You have a very powerful testimony. You are an inspiration to many with such a wonderful story of your journey. All of us here at FOX will miss you.God Bless you lady! See you back on the air soon.

  8. Wow. Isn’t it great to live in a time where these things are possible? I’ve used an insulin pump for almost twenty years now. I often wonder what my life would be, and if it would be at all, without modern medicine.
    I’m very impressed with you, Carly! Keep up the good spirits. Can we do anything for you here? Water your plants? Walk your pets?

  9. FLYNN – George and I will be there soon and we cannot wait to see you! You are in our prayers every day and Ashley and I have been talking about you constantly. Love reading your blogs – and am making sure that Ash has the website – I am sure you will be hearing from her soon. See you Sunday afternoon !

    Love, Susan

  10. Just Googled you….was wondering why you were not on Fox news the last few nights.

    You have a very interesting story. I have a similar one…motorcycle accident in 3rd grade….multiple surgeries to stop the growth of my legs because one was not growing at the same pace. About an inch difference in the 6th grade….been 5’8″ ever since (dad is 6’4″). Now I’m 36 and the leg certainly has its good and bad days. My wife and I have a soon to be three year old, and my short leg is doing all it can to keep up. I really enyoyed reading your letter addressed to your leg. You seem to have a great sense of humor, and that will certainly be a blessing as you continue PT.

    I hope and pray you have a speedy recovery.

  11. One of my Facebook friends shared your blog and I have sat here and read every post. You are an amazing woman and a fabulous writer! Your story has such a powerful message amd your bravery is inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Carly,
    we watch you all the time and was surprised to hear of your story. Ive never seen a blog but I was wondering why you had a leg lengthening.

    I know what your going thru. I had 2 inches in my tibia by the illizaroth method . Brutal but the best thing Ive done for my health.

    Good to see you back and good luck.

  13. Im not sure why i waited so long to tell you what an inspiration you have been to me. Your journey made me take stock of what is important in life and more than that created a sense of urgency in accepting the responsibility of “taking care of business” in order to enjoy the long term. We missed you every night bringing the days events to our home, now you are back, a trooper, a beautiful inspiration, and as always a true professional. Thanks for touching our lives, two and a half inches and you are head and shoulders above the rest. God Bless.

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