New limb lengthening technology helps girl walk

11-year-old says surgery changed her life

By Ginger Gadsden - Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - Madison Mink has always been an active little girl.  Her parents say she was born that way.

The 11- old from South Florida was also born with one leg nearly 2  1/2 inches shorter than the other.  Doctors say the femur in her left leg didn't grow normally and that forced Madison to walk with a limp. 

[WEB EXTRA: Limb length discrepancy | VIDEO: Watch limb-lengthening surgery animation ]

"You could tell because my left leg was skinnier than my right leg so you could tell that I had a difference," Madison said during her recent visit to Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando.

While having one leg shorter than the other never stopped Madison  from running, cheerleading or doing just about anything else, she says it was exhausting having to explain to people why she was wearing special shoes.

"I have a lift and they had never seen that before and they would say,"" What's that?"" And I would have to explain it a lot and it got kind of tiring."

Doctors have been operating on patients with limb length discrepancies since the 1950's. But those patients had to wear a bulky external device which could be awkward and limit their activities. Thanks to new technology, doctors can perform that same procedure on Madison only her leg would be lengthened from inside the bone, eliminating the need for the cumbersome external device.

Dr. Christopher Iobst is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando. Iobst has been performing a relatively new procedure using what's known as the Precise Nail for a few years now. Madison was one of his first patients.

"Basically we make a little cut in the bone and we can slowly separate the bone and your body just naturally fills it in with new bone. Just like if you break a bone and it's fixed with a cast," Iobst said.

Last June, Iobst performed Madison's surgery.  He inserted the Precise Nail in Madison's left leg.  The nail is actually two telescopic titanium rods.  After the surgery Madison will have to use an external remote controller to activate the rods.

Magnets inside the rod communicate with magnets inside the remote. This allows the rods to slowly lengthen the bone. 

Madison had to use the device four times a day for about 90 seconds each time.

"After a couple of months you could tell that my legs got the same length more and now my legs are getting better. I just need to get it a little bit stronger but it's going really well," Madison says with a smile on her face.

It's going so well that on one of her follow up visits with Iobst, Madison gives a pep talk to another girl who just had the same operation. 

She tells 15-year-old Alycia what to expect in the coming days and reminds her to keep up with her physical therapy. The two hug and Madison bounces out of Alycia's hospital room and heads to the elevator with her parents and sister by her side.

Madison's left leg is almost even with her right leg now. She says this is the day she has been waiting for.

"Now I can walk normally. I can run normally. I couldn't do that before so now it's changed my life," Madison proclaims.

She and her family will make the drive from Miami again at the end of May. That's when Iobst will remove the titanium rod.  She will still have to come back for periodic check-ups but Iobst says she should continue growing normally until her late teens.

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