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Sarcoma Survivor Is Back at Bat Thanks to Bionic Bone Implant

August 28, 2019

Brett Palmatiero-Meyers is stepping up to the plate with a new leg.

Brett, 15, of Wichita, had a bionic bone implanted into his left thigh after Ewing sarcoma invaded his leg. He was among the first in the nation to receive the unique bone prosthesis that expands easily as the child grows.

“It’s tremendous technology,” marvels Howard Rosenthal, MD, of The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Dr. Rosenthal, who is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sarcoma treatment, performed Brett's surgery. He is the only orthopedic surgeon in the region to use the new prosthesis. “By not doing the repetitive surgeries to lengthen the implant, it means we save the child from continued pain and lower the risk of infection to essentially zero.”

The device, essentially a bionic bone, is implanted into arms or legs, replacing cancerous bones. Unlike a standard bone implant that requires repeated surgeries as a child grows, the new implant can be adjusted externally without surgery.

The new implant is the result of some creative engineering: a tiny but powerful gearbox inside the implant controlled by a whirling magnetic coil, called the drive unit, outside the limb. The process lengthens the implant a millimeter at a time – up to 4 mm in the span of 15 minutes. The result: a painless expansion that allows the child to walk out of the physician’s office ready for action.

Fewer surgeries also mean less cost, notes Dr. Rosenthal. “We also don’t have to take the children out of school several times a year and interrupt their lives," he adds.

Customized bone implants for each person

The implant must be custom-built for each patient. This requires extensive planning between Dr. Rosenthal and the manufacturer, Stanmore Implants, in the United Kingdom.

The bionic bone is so unusual it has encountered import issues. Last December, U.S. Customs in New York held up 3 of the prostheses created for Dr. Rosenthal’s patients. To get the shipment into the country, Dr. Rosenthal contacted U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts’ office, which intervened to clear the path through customs.

Dr. Rosenthal says eventually Brett will be able to play any sport he wants.

And when Brett next heads to Dr. Rosenthal’s office to have the high-tech implant in his leg lengthened, the surgeon has a special treat for him.

“I'll let him turn on the machine himself.”

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