You might say Hannah Hicks is a walking miracle — literally.
Following a family ski trip in March 2009, a bump below the teen’s right knee was read by the radiologist as a stress fracture and treated initially as a stress fracture by a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon. She was eventually cleared to resume activities.
But the “bump” continued to grow and become increasingly painful. Her parents were assured that these symptoms were consistent with a stress fracture, but they couldn’t ignore what happened during the next few months. Hannah began to contract all sorts of viral infections, from blisters to the Swine flu.
The pediatric orthopaedist then ordered an MRI with contrast to be performed at Cleveland Clinic. The next day, Hannah’s mother, Cris, received an urgent phone call from the specialist informing her that he had made arrangements for them to meet with Cleveland Clinic orthopaedic surgical oncologist Michael Joyce, MD.
“After a day’s worth of testing and a bone biopsy under general anesthetic, we learned that our beautiful only child had osteosarcoma – bone cancer,” Mrs. Hicks says. The cancer in her right tibia was a Stage IIB osteosarcoma, a fast-growing cancer that had already spread outside the bone and into surrounding soft tissues.
Dr. Joyce immediately ordered that Hannah not use her right leg at all, to prevent a break. On July 24, a Mediport® device was implanted into Hannah’s chest to administer chemotherapy that very evening.
Following 10 weeks of drug therapy, Dr. Joyce performed a six-hour resection and reconstructive surgical procedure on Hannah’s tibia. Using donor bone and ligaments, he was able to salvage her knee and the upper and mid portion of her tibia, and completely remove the tumor.
Dr. Joyce was able to devise an operation that salvaged the surface of the joint and the cruciate ligaments, but replaced most of her upper and mid tibia with reattachment of the anterior patellar ligament that moves the knee and the medial ligament that stabilizes the knee.
“Hope was restored on Oct. 12, 2009, when Dr. Joyce unveiled the bandages for the first time,” Mrs. Hicks says. “We were amazed at how beautiful the scar looked…The man is a true genius, and Hannah’s leg is some of his finest work.”
Hannah resumed chemotherapy from November to April.
In January 2010, Dr. Joyce allowed Hannah to walk for the first time in nearly six months. Before long, she was walking beautifully without crutches, her mother reports.
Although healing had been amazing, Dr. Joyce was concerned about the point of fusion between Hannah’s tibia and the transplanted donor bone. The higher portion of the bones had fused nicely, but the thinner lower portion was being stubborn.
In August 2010, he performed a bone graft surgery that involved injecting a demineralized bone paste and patient's bone marrow directly into the fusion site. She once again was on crutches, but only for a few days this time.
The 15-year-old was able to return to Solon High School on Aug. 24 — after a year’s absence — in some pain, but completely whole and with a good prognosis.
“We will forever be grateful for the love and support that we received from friends and family during the past 13 months,” Mrs. Hicks says. “However, we are equally thankful for the strangers who became friends at Cleveland Clinic. We are so fortunate to have been cared for by such true and caring professionals.”