Kansas Teen Can Resume Baseball Thanks To "Bionic" Bone Implant

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Jill Chadwick

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             Brett Palmatiero-Myers looks like a normal teenager, but beneath the skin he is very different from his classmates. The 15-year-old from Haven, Kansas near Hutchinson, is one of the few children in the world with a “bionic” bone.

After cancer invaded his leg, surgeons at The University of Kansas Hospital salvaged the limb using a pioneering implant that is now giving hope to young cancer patients who previously faced amputation or years of painful surgery.

Brett was fitted with a custom-made titanium prosthesis which will “grow” as he ages to match the development of his healthy leg. The implant has motors that can be operated from outside the body using electromagnets, gradually lengthening the implant and subsequently the leg. Until five years ago, his doctors say Brett would probably have had to have his leg amputated.

Dr. Howard Rosenthal specializes in orthopedic oncology and metabolic bone diseases at The University of Kansas Hospital’s Sarcoma Center. “Before, we used an implant that had to be lengthened surgically,” he said. “The patient would be in the hospital for a week and would need physical therapy afterwards. This process would be required up to eight times until adulthood. Each time there was a risk of infection. Now we can extend the limb on an outpatient basis. It takes four minutes to grow the leg and the patient feels no pain and goes home afterwards.”

In the video, Dr. Rosenthal describes the process, how it’s such a big improvement over previous treatments, why he has to get special permission from the government to have this custom-made device built and why he had to have Kansas Senator Pat Roberts help get the device to the operating table.

Wendy Kowitz is Brett’s mom. She explains how the great support of family and Brett’s school was so important, and how the implant will work for Brett.

The patient, Brett Palmatiero-Myers describes how he had to miss playing baseball this summer, but how his team rallied around him and why he’s encouraged that Dr. Rosenthal said he’ll be able to go back to being a catcher.

           The video also shows Brett’s family with him before surgery and video from the operating room of the device as it’s being implanted into Brett’s leg.