November 21, 2016
Specialized orthopedic oncology procedures preserve patients’ active lifestyles
BY Cynthia DeMarco
You’d never guess that Luke Adkins is a cancer survivor by looking at him.
But the 24-year-old paramedic had his entire left knee and part of his femur replaced with an endoprosthesis (an artificial bone and joint) in 2011 due to osteosarcoma, and MD Anderson’s Orthopaedic Oncology department has kept him active and on his feet.
“I feel very fortunate,” Luke says. “I live in Lubbock, and removal of my leg was pretty much the only option if I had been treated there.”
Second opinion yields internal prosthesis
Instead of having his leg amputated, Luke came to MD Anderson for a second opinion. He ended up working with Valerae Lewis, M.D., who leads our Orthopaedic Oncology department.
“I was in Houston for about a month after the surgery, and when I left, I walked out of hospital,” Luke says. “I fully credit MD Anderson and Dr. Lewis for that.”
Today, high-impact sports such as running, skiing and wakeboarding are no longer an option for Luke. But having an artificial knee and internal prosthesis has not prevented him from achieving any of his career goals. Luke works in the physically demanding field of emergency medicine. He also serves as a member of his county’s volunteer fire department, which required him to pass a physical fitness test.
“I have no regrets,” Luke says. “I get around just fine. Some things are harder than others, but I don’t have any pain, and I don’t take any medicines. This has limited me in nothing.”
Orthopaedic Oncology’s goal is to have patients walking again
MD Anderson’s Orthopaedic Oncology program is unique, Lewis explains, because we’re one of only a few places that uses a multi-disciplinary approach. A team of professionals from almost a dozen different areas — including plastic surgery, psychiatry, and prosthetics — play a part in developing patients’ care plans.
“What set us apart from other institutions are our skill, our approach and the integration of individualized patient-centered physical therapy at the start of treatment,” she says.
“Our main plan is to have you here in 20 or 30 years,” Lewis says. “But our job isn’t over when we leave the operating room. Our job is over once we have you walking and back to your life. As a team, our ultimate goal is to get you back to functional status as quickly as possible.”
MD Anderson helps college athlete stay on the volleyball court
Another patient helped by MD Anderson’s Orthopaedic Oncology team is Jillian Williams. She is a 19-year-old college athlete who didn’t want cancer to keep her from playing volleyball.
“I thought I had a torn meniscus,” she says. “But when I was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in my left knee, I only had two questions: ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’ and ‘Am I going to lose my leg?’”
Ultimately, Jillian chose to have part of her femur removed in July 2016. She also had a procedure called a rotationplasty, in which the lower portion of the leg is rotated and reattached backwards so that the ankle can function as a type of knee joint.
Patients who have rotationplasties tend to stay more physically active after surgery and handle their prostheses more easily.
“Dr. Lewis told me I had two options: amputation or rotationplasty,” Jillian says. “I asked her which one would let me be the most active. When she told me I could still play sports with a rotationplasty, that was it. I want to play volleyball again. And I expect to be back on the court again by next fall.”
Staying active after hemipelvectomies
Other success stories from MD Anderson’s Orthopaedic Oncology department include Jacob Ballard and Matt Alcantara. Both had a surgical procedure called a hemipelvectomy, in which one entire side of the pelvic bone is removed.
Jacob is a teenage Ewing’s sarcoma survivor who completed a difficult hike over rough terrain just one year after surgery. And Matt is a 22-year-old osteosarcoma survivor who works as a waiter by day and plays guitar in an alternative reggae jazz band by night.
“I feel like I still live a pretty normal life,” Matt says. “I can body surf, bike and hike and still enjoy those things. On stage, I can still play music and jam with my friends. It’s awesome.”
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Ewing’s sarcoma survivor Jacob Ballard completed a difficult hike over rough terrain just one year after hemipelvectomy surgery.
Ewing’s sarcoma survivor Jillian Williams underwent a rotationplasty procedure so she could continue playing volleyball.
“I have no regrets,” says osteosarcoma survivor and volunteer fireman Luke Adkins of his endoprosthesis. “This has limited me in nothing.”
When she told me I could still play sports with a rotationplasty, that was it.