Because of my orthopaedic care, I can cheer and swim.
Excerpts from Ashley’s story as shared by the Campbell Foundation:
For the typical 12-year-old girl, a growth spurt is a good excuse to ask for a bigger bike or a pair of trendy new jeans. But for Ashley Garrett, a high-spirited seventh grader from Collierville, growing taller creates an unusual need.
It was time for Ashley’s doctors to “grow” the expandable implant inside her left leg, so the limb surgically altered because of bone cancer will remain the same length as her healthy right leg.
“Ten to twenty years ago, it’s very likely the osteosarcoma on Ashley’s left femur would have resulted in amputation of her leg,” said Dr. Robert Heck, one of two orthopaedic oncologists in Memphis. “Ashley is the beneficiary of improvements in surgical techniques and chemotherapy, as well as a revolutionary new device — the first non-invasive expandable prosthesis.”
Dr. Heck and Dr. Michael Neel teamed with Dr. Bhaskar Rao of St. Jude in August of 2002 to perform the required surgery. After Ashley had undergone three months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, the surgical team removed the tumor and the top half of Ashley’s tibia, including the surrounding muscle and joint. They replaced the portion of bone removed with the expandable prosthesis, securing a stem down into her remaining bone.
Up until very recently, Dr. Heck said, surgeons dealing with young bone cancer patients still in their growth years would implant a prosthesis that need to be replaced with a longer prosthesis after a period of time. With additional growth, another surgery was required, then another and another as long as the patient was growing.
“It only took a few minutes, and I could have stayed awake, but I was a little scared so they put me to sleep,” she said. “When I woke up, my left leg felt a little tight but it went away the next day.”
Ashley maintains a lifestyle that would be difficult for a child with an amputated limb. Although she can no longer participate in the gymnastics classes she loved, she now spends more time swimming. She can’t play competitive sports, but Ashley serves as a cheerleader for a youth-league football team, rallying fans along the sidelines in support of her favorite team.
“My friends have been great,” she said. “When I want to play something, they don’t say no. They just make up different rules for me.”
“People ask me how long it will last, and I use the analogy of tires on a car,” Dr. Heck said. “If you drive like my grandmother, the tires last a long time. If you drive like an Indy race car driver, the tires will wear out very quickly.”
Ashley will require additional sessions to lengthen the her expandable implant in the coming years, Dr. Heck said. When Ashley stops growing — probably around age 14 — surgeons will implant a stronger, more stable prosthesis in her leg.