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.
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.
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.
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.”