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Leg Lengthening Gives Boy Path to Play

Medical Breakthroughs HeaderBy Susan J. White

It became apparent when Jeremy Hooten was 2 years old that one leg was shorter than the other. Yes, he was a typical rambunctious toddler but his mother could see that he limped a little when walking and stood with one shoulder slumped lower than the other.

When Jeremy first met Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon David W. Roberts, MD, his left femur bone was already a full inch shorter than his right one. The little boy’s days of running and playing sports were tainted with increasing back and hip pain and trouble running smoothly.

Jeremy’s family decided on a conservative approach at first by getting him a large custom heel lift for his shoe. However, this was difficult to use over time and too cumbersome for Jeremy to run and be active.

x-ray of legLimb-lengthening surgery is typically performed when patients are in their late teens or adulthood. But to the family’s relief, Dr. Roberts, with the Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, offered them a novel approach that opened the way for Jeremy to have his leg lengthened at age 10, alleviating years of pain and problems down the road.

“To see him today it’s as if it never happened,” said Lori Hooten, Jeremy’s mother, of Glenview. “We’d been talking about this since he was 2; we’re grateful to Dr. Roberts and so glad this is behind us.”

For teens and adults, the procedure involves carefully cutting the bone crosswise and implanting a metal rod to keep the bone connected and stabilized. An external magnetic device is used to slowly lengthen the bone, one mm per day, until the goal length is reached. The body is able to grow new bone in the gap.

The metal rods come in several sizes, but the smallest ones are too large to be placed inside the bones of younger/smaller children. Dr. Roberts was able to insert the metal rod inside Jeremy’s leg, but on the outside of his bone.

“He explained that this was a new way of doing the surgery and gave us all the literature and information to help us make a good decision,” Lori Hooten said. “We felt very comfortable with Dr. Roberts and we felt like this was a great opportunity to get this taken care of at a younger age.”

Jeremy knew there would be pain and down time associated with the procedure, but he was mentally prepared and all in with the idea of having the surgery as soon as possible, she said.

Within a month of his November 2021 surgery, Jeremy’s femur was successfully lengthened.

For the first 3 months, he used a wheelchair or crutches, and was not allowed to put any weight on the leg to protect the newly formed bone as it healed.  The lengthening process did come with some pain, but Jeremy was thrilled with the end result and a new pair of Jordans he could wear without any prosthetic lift.

By April he was back to playing baseball, and by May he was able to resume running and was full speed ahead. The rod was removed in a second operation in August.

“It was a novel approach that worked beautifully and he’s back to playing sports and living fully with no limitations,” said Dr. Roberts. One of the side benefits of the innovative procedure was that the bone healed even faster with the rod on the outside, added Dr. Roberts. “This will be revolutionary for younger kids, and we’re really happy that we can offer this advanced limb-lengthening care.”