New process literally stretches leg bones

April 17, 2009 11:00:15 AM PDT
Doctors at Houston's Shriners Hospital say they see between 20 and 30 children a month with leg length problems. It's a common condition that can make the youngsters the targets of bullies and jokes. But now a new device is changing life for the better for young patients -- and it's doing it with fewer side effects and a shorter recovery time. James Morrison, 15, was born with a disability that caused one leg to be shorter than the other. It forced him to wear a special shoe to compensate.

"All through elementary school, getting made fun of because I had this little boot thing on my leg," he recalled. "So it was really difficult to cope with."

But a new device is changing life for James and others like him. It's an internal limb lengthening rod called an ISKD.

"The nice thing about the ISKD is the lengthening is done inside the bone, and from the outside you can't even tell that the lengthening is going on," explained Dr. Allison Scott, an orthopedic surgeon at the Shriners Hospital.

The rod is inserted in a patient and over a period of several weeks changes are made. The device lengthens about 1/32 of an inch a day, up to two inches in two months. Doctors say it offers several advantages over older, uglier, bulkier devices.

"The risk for infection is a lot less. The scarring is a lot less," said Dr. Scott. "Once you're out to length with ISKD, the nail is in there, but you can pretty much resume your normal life."

But don't expect a pain-free recovery. James' mother Janice Morrison recalled, "After the surgery, he was not very happy. He was in excruciating pain."

Now James, who got his ISKD about a month ago, is well on his way to recovery and resuming his football career.

"I can't wait to get back on the field," he said.

His mom, meanwhile, has something else in mind.

Janice said, "I told him, 'I can't wait for you to wear real shoes!'"

Dr. Scott says the device can be implanted into a growing child, and the entire lengthening process can take about two months.

'I'm happy that finally he's going to feel good about himself," Janice said.

Dr. Scott says the one drawback of the ISKD device is they don't really have any control over the lengthening process. The device does it as fast as it wants to because it uses the patient's motion in daily activity to lengthen. That means some can lengthen slowly and others very quickly.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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