New Surgery Helps Teen Walk Again

Procedure uses computers for more precise treatment

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    The first time a mother sees her child walk, that child is usually about 1 year old. But now new technology is allowing one mother to see her teenage daughter take her first step after a near-fatal car crash.

    "A car stopped abruptly in front of me, and it was either hit him or try to go around," said 17-year-old Meghan Bryant. "I thought I had enough room to go around."

    Bryant, then 16, didn't have enough room. Her back tires got caught in gravel, and her truck flipped over two times. Rescue crews cut her out of the car. She couldn't feel the left side of her body and was airlifted to Baltimore Shock Trauma.

    "They told me at the time they didn't know what it was," she said. "It could have been a brain injury. It could have been a stroke."

    New Surgery Helps Teen Walk After Crash

    [DC] New Surgery Helps Teen Walk After Crash
    The first time a mother sees her child walk, that child is usually about 1 year old. But now new technology is allowing one mother to see her teenage daughter take her first step after a near-fatal car crash.

    She eventually started moving her left hand, but her leg remained motionless. Her muscles in her shin and calf had contracted, leaving her foot stuck in a down position and making her unable to walk.

    "So just like your foot was in a high heel, positioned downward," said Georgetown University Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Francis McGuigan. "She was not able to lift it back up, so trying to walk basically on her tip toes at all times."

    Bryant tried physical therapy, specialized casts, even surgery. Nothing worked. So McGuigan decided to take a new approach.

    "We're doing a minimally invasive surgery," he said. "It's computer assisted, so we can get much more exact then we can just in the operating room and it takes a few minutes to an hour."

    Doctors attach this metal cage, called a Taylor spatial frame, to the leg bone. A special computer program then figures out precisely how to adjust the cage, so that the foot holds in a "normal" position. The bones and muscles are then able to re-align themselves over time. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to months.

    "We want it on long enough so that the soft tissue develops memory, so the foot won't go back to the same position it was before," he said.

    Doctors have been using similar cages for years, but they used complex math equations to figure out how to position the cage. Doctors needed to make many adjustments to get it right, and errors were common.

    Bryant wore the cage for five weeks. Then, another cast for an additional three. She was wheelchair bound at her senior prom. But Tuesday, doctors cut off that cast.

    "I'm feeling great," she said just a few minutes after the cast was removed. "I feel like I'm normal again. So I'm really excited."

    With the help of a brace, Bryant can now walk on crutches. McGuigan believes that with more physical therapy she'll be walking without help very soon. Her goal is to walk at her high school graduation in two weeks.

    "I haven't been able to do it for such a long time and commencement is about moving on, so it's like I'll be moving on with this, too."