To Walk in Her Shoes
Born with a short femur, Claire Jerome waited until a new technology was available to lengthen her limb in a safe and less invasive manner.
Like many little girls, Claire Jerome wanted a pair of light-up shoes. However, she was never able to wear them because until recently, Claire had to use a special lift in her left shoe that would only fit in certain footwear.
Claire was born with her left femur six centimeters shorter than the right, making her one of the 100,000 people who are diagnosed with limb-length disorders in the U.S. each year. If left untreated, the condition can result in chronic leg and back pain and other debilitating conditions.
When Claire was 6 months old, her parents, Marsha and John Jerome, took her to see Andrea Kramer, MD, a pediatric orthopedic specialist at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute who is on staff at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge. Dr. Kramer thought it would be best to monitor Claire’s growth and perform corrective surgery—but not right away.
“At the time I met Claire the common treatment option for leg lengthening was an external fixator, which has pins and a frame on the outside of the leg—making the patient more susceptible to infections and potential fractures after the lengthening,” says Dr. Kramer. “We were aware that a new technology was being pioneered that would make the process much easier and safer for the patient. Waiting for that new procedure was the best option for Claire.”
In the meantime, Claire wore a lift in her shoe to allow her to walk and run, as well as to relieve any discomfort caused by the limb-length discrepancy. But she still had a noticeable limp.
“People would stare or make comments, but Claire would always just say, ‘This is the way I was born, and the shoe helps me walk better,’” says Marsha. “Nothing was going to stop her from being an active little girl. She loves the outdoors and animals and even played softball.”
In 2012, the new technology was proved to be an effective and safe alternative to the external fixator. The surgery is less invasive and less painful, and the equipment is much easier for the patient to manage. During the procedure the surgeon inserts a telescopic rod into the bone. Using a magnet and an external remote control to extend the rod and pull apart the bone allows new bone to fill in.
Dr. Kramer performed Claire’s surgery in December 2013, when Claire was 8 years old, at Advocate Children’s Hospital – Park Ridge. Dr. Kramer showed Marsha and John how to use the simple device at home in Charleston, Indiana. The goal was to add 55 millimeters to her leg, so they were instructed to use the handheld controller to manipulate the bone three times a day, lengthening it 1 millimeter per day for 55 days. Claire’s parents found the machine very easy to use and painless for Claire, and were relieved not to have to deal with the external fixator.
“Dr. Kramer is so good with kids. She made us feel so comfortable and explained everything to us so that Claire was never afraid,” shares Marsha. “Dr. Kramer and her staff are like family to us. We had been preparing for this since Claire was 6 months old.”
By the time the lengthening process was over, Claire’s bone had grown to fill in the gap making her legs the same size. She still has a slight limp, but continues to work on her gait in physical therapy. Claire was so excited when she recently received the go-ahead to get back to gym class and playing softball.
Since Claire no longer needed a shoe lift, Marsha was excited to take her daughter shopping to get any shoes she wanted. “I couldn’t wait to buy her the light-up shoes she always dreamed about,” says Marsha. “But when we got to the store, Claire decided she was too old for the light-up kind and selected a fun pair of Sketchers instead!”
First published: Spring 2014