For ten-year old Donovan, some growth spurts are scheduled.
About once a month, his family makes the trip from Homosassa to All Children’s Specialty Care in Tampa for a procedure guaranteed to add length to Donovan’s left leg. Through its partnership with H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, All Children’s is the only place in America offering this option for kids like Donovan...
...kids who otherwise might have lost a leg to cancer.
Donovan was six when he started complaining about his left leg. His parents thought it might be growing pains, especially since an occasional limp never seemed to last. When the pain kept Donovan from going to school, his mom took him to the family pediatrician, Dr. Gogi Ramappa. After CT scans and a sonogram, Donovan was off to All Children’s Hospital for an emergency MRI and a visit with Dr. Jerry Barbosa, founder of All Children’s Hematology/Oncology Program. “Dr. B” offered the diagnosis—Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that would cost Donovan most of his left thigh bone, his knee and part of his shin.
“Dr. B said—there’s no guarantees on anything,” dad Bob recalls. “He said we could go home for that weekend, but Donovan would come back in on Monday to start aggressive therapy and operations right away. It was a long two years of chemo and everything else.
“If it wasn’t for All Children’s, I don’t know how we would have got through it,” says dad. Without All Children’s, mom MaryAnn says Donovan’s life today would be drastically different. “The protocol at that point was to amputate. So if we were anywhere else in the U.S., he wouldn’t have that leg right now.”
Instead, Dr. B introduced the family to Doug Letson, MD. He directs the Sarcoma Program at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and is a partner in care for many pediatric bone cancer patients at All Children’s Hospital. As an orthopedic oncologist, Letson is the only American surgeon cleared to use a British prosthetic device called the Stanmore JTS Non-Invasive Implant. More than just metal rods and artificial joints, this Stanmore device incorporates a gearbox mechanism that rotates to extend the length of the implant. The “growth” is activated through the use of magnets.
In Donovan’s first surgery at All Children’s—when Letson removed the cancerous mass from the then-six-year old’s leg—muscles, nerves and skin were spared. Only the affected bone was replaced with the implant, which was anchored in remaining bone of Donovan’s shin and thigh.
Since then, Donovan has grown a foot, with help from a “mini-MRI machine” at All Children’s Specialty Care of Tampa. A plastic and metal “donut” about three feet in diameter is placed atop an exam room table, where Donovan sits and slides his implanted leg into the “hole.” A coil inside the donut generates a rotating magnetic field, which activates the gearbox inside Donovan’s implant to slowly extend about one-sixth of an inch in each half-hour session.
Donovan spends the time chatting with Dan the device technician, or sipping an energy drink. He says he can feel the device working—“it sort of tickles, but you can’t hear anything unless you use a stethoscope on the bones.” Afterward, he usually hops off the table and heads out to lunch with his dad.
He’s grown so much that last August Dr. Letson had to put in a new, larger implant to carry Donovan through his normal adolescent growth. He’ll need surgery for one more implant—a permanent one— after he reaches adult height.
But in the meantime, his dad says, Donovan will continue being a kid. “He lives life to the fullest. It scares me when I go to pick him up after school and find him out there playing dodge ball with the rest of the kids! But he doesn’t let this slow him down, not one bit.”
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