Health & Science

How Local Surgeons Extended an 11-Year-Old Boy's Leg By More Than an Inch Using a Magnet

Typically performed on older patients, surgeons at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute are offering limb-lengthening surgery at a younger age for some patients

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Doctors at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute are putting a new spin on an old surgical technique to help children born with one leg shorter than the other.

It’s a condition called congenital short femur and Jeremy Hooten from Glenview is one of those patients.

Lori Hooten, Jeremy’s mom, noticed the difference in the length of her son’s legs shortly after Jeremy started walking.

“I just noticed that he would kind of stand sideways and he would prop one foot out to the side,” Lori Hooten said.

“We met him when he was about 6 years old and found that his leg on the left side was shorter by about an inch and a half,” said Dr. David Roberts, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute.

That’s about the same time Jeremy started feeling the discrepancy in his legs.

“I kind of noticed and I started getting hip pain and back pain,” Jeremy said.

Last year, when Jeremy was 10 years old, Roberts approached his family with a possible solution.

“We can do things to lengthen the bone to make it even so that you walk better,” Roberts said.

The surgical technique involves breaking the bone, placing a metal rod inside the bone and then using a magnetic device to help make the new bone grow. There was one problem though—Jeremy’s age.

“That rod is a certain size, so it only fits in kids whose bones are a little bit bigger than Jeremy's were,” Roberts said.

He recommended a new technique that involves placing the rod alongside the bone, instead of inside of it.

“Historically, we've waited until you're basically a teenager to get this fixed. But when you're 6 or 7 or 8, that's five, six years of waiting. So having an option that you can do sooner is a big win for patients,” Roberts said.

“I paused and Jeremy said, 'Now!' I was like, 'Okay, I guess we're doing it now,'” Lori Hooten said.

About a year ago, the rod was surgically implanted and then Jeremy had to use a magnetic actuator several times a day for more than a month.

“I put a magnet to my leg and it would extend the rod to lengthen the bone. And every time it lengthened, new bone would grow to make it longer,” Jeremy said, describing the process.

“We can control exactly to the millimeter-precision how long we want the bone. And so that's what we did in his case and it works just as well outside as inside,” Roberts said.

Last spring, Jeremy even played baseball with the rod still in his leg. Then in July, he had a second surgery to have the rod removed and his legs were the exact same length.

“I haven't felt any pain since I got it out,” Jeremy said.

“I think that it's 100% worth it and the sooner the better,” Lori Hooten said.

“The cool thing is it's the same device. We're just using it in a kind of smarter way and it works well,” Roberts said.

Now the 11-year-old can continue playing all the sports he loves – baseball, basketball and football --  without any pain.

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