Lengthening Legs

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Kelly Lockett doesn't miss a step when browsing for her next purchase, even though this 13-year old has depended on one leg her entire life. Kelly was born with the bone behind her shin missing. The condition deformed her foot and shortened her leg. Doctors told her mom amputation was the best option.

"We were told she would have psychological scars from all the surgeries, and therefore we should amputate," Kelly's mom, Carolyn Lockett, told Ivanhoe.

"The most common way to treat these conditions up until now has been to amputate the foot," Dror Paley, M.D., director of the Paley Advanced Limb Lengthening Institute at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., explained.

Dr. Paley has been working for 23 years to correct limb deformities and injuries without amputation.

"Although it's more surgery, you end up with your own leg," he said.

He broke Kelly's shin bone and implanted a metal fixator -- worn for eight months -- that's designed to slowly lengthen the bone 1 millemeter every day.

"What's happening in the lengthening is every single day, you're pulling the bone apart," Dr. Paley explained. "The bone is a living substance. It makes new bone to fill in where you break it. You're pulling it apart, and it makes new bone to fill that gap."

Patients have to consider risks like pain, nerve damage, bone infection and failure of bone healing.

"During the lengthening, it was painful," Kelly said. "I've never thought, 'I don't wanna do this.' There's never been a point where I've wanted to stop, because I just keep thinking of the end and how it's going to be."

Kelly's leg is now 10 inches longer than it would have been without the surgeries. Twenty-three-year-old Julie Nichols hopes for similar results.

"I never wanted to opt for amputation," Nichols told Ivanhoe. "It was never in my heart to do that. I just knew that one day, maybe there would be another option for me."

She's in for three surgeries and almost a year of therapy, but says her goal will keep her going.

"I want to run so bad," Nichols said. "After these surgeries, my goal is to run a marathon." Dr. Paley has performed over 10,000 limb lengthening procedures and says he is one of three surgeons in the United States who perform the more complicated surgeries like Kelly's. Dr. Paley monitors the device's progress with X-rays every two weeks and says he can slow down or speed up the bone lengthening as needed.

Paley Advanced Limb Lengthening Institute
(561) 844-5255
Caroline Eaton, Program Coordinator

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