TAMS Student Endures Surgery and Physical Therapy to Lengthen Femur

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Seventh grader Katelyn Buck was born a healthy and normal baby girl. As a child, she was very active and participated in track and softball. Then, in fourth grade, she started noticing that her right knee was really swollen and sore.

That was when the doctors had told Katie she had two fused growth plates in her right leg and that her right leg was one inch shorter than her left leg.

“Normally growth plates produce bone and the bone gets longer. My right leg has some piece of bone that stops the growth plate. The end of the bone doesn’t grow,” Katie said.

No parent wants to hear that their child will struggle.”

— Stephanie Buck

Normally, fused growth plates occurred when someone has an injury or a break in the bone, but Katie’s parents, Stephanie and Jeff, don’t remember her ever getting hurt.

“We don’t know why a piece of bone grew in her growth plate. She did not have an injury. The doctors are still investigating into what happened, but we do not know,” said Stephanie Buck. “While we were relieved to have a diagnosis and know why her joints were inflamed, no parent wants to hear that their child will struggle.”

Because of her fused growth plate, Katie’s right leg didn’t grow properly. This caused her right leg to be three inches shorter than her other leg. To cope, she had to wear a shoe lift of 1½ inches.

“[I had trouble] just walking. I walked with my hips not straight and that would hurt my back so I would get sore a lot. There was just a lot of soreness in my hips, knees, and back,” she said about some of her daily challenges.

Before her surgery, the decision on what surgery or method to use was a difficult one, until recently, a new surgery was developed for this type of physical condition.

“Every local ortho specialist we talked to agreed slowing or stopping growth wasn’t favorable for Katie and almost every doctor recommended the International Center of Limb Lengthening in Baltimore. The Precise Nail that they developed was relatively new, but it was getting amazing results over traditional methods using an external fixator,” said Stephanie Buck.

Katie recently had surgery in Baltimore, Maryland at the Sinai Hospital. Her surgeon was Dr. John Herzenberg, the Director of Pediatric Orthopedics at Sinai Hospital Baltimore and the Director of the International Center of Limb Lengthening.

To prepare for the surgery, Katie was told to just keep her muscles loose, such as her hamstring and her quad.

Her surgery was on January 24th and lasted nearly five hours. The surgery was called Right Femoral Lengthening using the Precise Nail.

“[For the surgery,] they put an expandable rod in my femur bone with pins on the ends to keep the rod in place then break the femur. After a couple of days, we start[ed] lengthening or expanding the rod by putting a high powered magnet on my leg that spins the rod while it is inside my femur, slowly making it longer,” said Katie.

I didn’t mind answer[ing] the question about why my shoe was so big but most people didn’t really understand what I was saying so they would continue to ask the same question.”

— Katelyn Buck

In layman’s terms, the doctor broke her femur in order to place a metal rod in her leg. Katie, her mom, and various physical therapists use magnets everyday to twist the rod in her femur to lengthen her real leg.

“I use the magnet five times a day. Each time it lengthens the femur .2 millimeters (1 millimeter a day),” said Katie.

Katie had physical therapy in Baltimore twice a day. Now that she’s back home, she goes to Altoona three times a week while her mom helps her the rest of the time.

“[At physical therapy,] they exercise and stretch my muscles, trying to keep the muscles loose and watch that [the] range of motion [of my] hip, knee, and ankle is good. If muscle gets tight or you have trouble with your knee not straightening… you have to stop or slow down the lengthening,” said Katie.  

She will have to do physical therapy until her bone is healed and she has full range of motion in her leg.

Since January, Katie has been home schooled due to having surgery and her recovery.

“It’s a lot easier to learn from a worksheet or a packet than try to learn it online,” Katie said about taking classes and lessons online.

She was always okay about her shoe lift and her physical condition, but as she grew and her right leg didn’t, it got more noticeable.

“Usually I was okay but it started to get worse when my shoe lift was getting bigger because more people asked about why my shoe was so big or other comments or questions that people would say to me. I didn’t mind answer[ing] the question about why my shoe was so big but most people didn’t really understand what I was saying so they would continue to ask the same question,” said Katie.

After being away for 57 days, Katie came home from the hospital. This week Katie will be attending school for half days because she needs to leave to go to physical therapy. This week will determine when she will fully come back to school or if she will continue doing half days.

After seeing her recovery from the surgery, which is probably one of the toughest things she has done in her life, I know she will always push herself to get the job done.”

— Michael Buck

Her family won’t know how many more surgeries similar to this Katie will have in the future because nobody can tell how much more her left leg will grow.

“I would say I’m determined because I’m determined to get through these surgeries so that I can have a better future for me and my health,”  Katie said. 

After seeing her recovery from the surgery, which is probably one of the toughest things she has done in her life, I know she will always push herself to get the job done,” said Michael Buck, Katie’s older brother.

Even after all of the struggle Katie had throughout her life, she still managed to participate in softball and track.

“She’s very kind, helpful, positive, funny, sharing, supportive, and one of the best friends you could have,” said Katie’s friend, Jaida Parker.

When asked what three words she would use to describe her daughter, Stephanie Buck said determined, inspiring, and blessed.

Katelyn never complains and has never let her leg length difference slow her down. She has taught me so much about not taking little things for granted. She has so many family, friends, and even people who didn’t know her personally, supporting her and encouraging her all the way,” Stephanie said.

To support Katie, click HERE to donate.

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