May 4, 2018

Why British surgeons amputated this 7-year-old's leg and reattached it upside down

Daily Briefing

    Amelia Eldred was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer just before her seventh birthday, so doctors performed a rotationplasty—a rare procedure that rotated her leg 180 degrees to facilitate a future prosthetic, Lindsey Bever writes for the Washington Post.

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    Amelia's diagnosis

    Last summer, Amelia's leg "gave way" while she was playing, according to her mother Michelle Eldred. After she was taken to a nearby hospital, she was transferred to Birmingham Children's Hospital in central England, where doctors discovered that she had a 10-centimeter tumor in the femur of her left leg.

    Amelia was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the most common form of bone cancer in children. According to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, if the cancer is treated early, the long-term survival rate is between 70% and 75%. Osteosarcoma often can be treated with chemotherapy or surgery.

    The treatment plan

    Doctors first attempted to treat the cancer with chemotherapy, but when the tumor didn't respond, they turned to another form of treatment: rotationplasty.

    The procedure requires a surgeon to amputate the leg at the thigh; remove the central portion of the leg, including the knee; and then rotate the lower part 180 degrees and reattach it, backwards, to the upper part of the leg, Bever writes.

    Eventually, Amelia's reattached ankle will function as a new knee joint, and her foot will fit into a prosthetic, giving her the ability to run, walk, and dance—"all the things [she] used to love to do," her mother said.

    According to Amelia, the leg "doesn't feel that different," though "it is different when I have to move because it's the other way around—when I move it up or down or side to side, I go the other way because it's the wrong way around."

    Lee Jeys, a surgeon who performed the surgery, said that Amelia "was the perfect patient to have this procedure," adding that she's "shown real bravery and confidence in showing off her leg, even though it looks a bit different" (Bever, Washington Post, 4/26).

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