Limb-lengthening system adds inches to athlete's shorter leg
July 22, 2013 -- Remotes do everything from open garage doors to change TV channels, but now there's one to help make legs longer.
Caleb Conway pumps iron at home to build muscle and keep his arms in shape.
But he does something else to improve his body. Conway's leg is very slowly getting longer. This is a workout like nothing you've seen before.
"Only takes 3 minutes, that's pretty much it," said Caleb Conway, leg patient.
Conway has known for years his left leg was about 2 1/2 inches shorter than his right, a difference that can be seen in old x-rays.
Amazingly, he was still a star athlete. For years, the 21-year-old lived with the discrepancy.
But doctors now suspect it caused a sting of injuries and curvature of the spine. His family was shocked.
"I was thinking, 'I'm a physician. How did I miss that?" said Dr. LaMenta Conway, mother.
Conway finally decided to take action when he learned of this breakthrough technology.
"I dont care if I'm one of the first. . . I'll be a trailblazer. I just want to get it done," said Conway.
"Precice" is an FDA-approved internal limb lengthening system with a remote control.
A titanium rod is surgically implanted in a patient's thigh bone. A magnetic generator is then placed over the leg, and when it's turned on, the telescopic rod actually pulls apart- creating room for new bone to grow. It's done for a few minutes several times a day. Average growth is about a millimeter a day, or a little over an inch a month.
"You don't see anything from the outside. The patients can lengthen at home," said Dr. Monica Kogan, pediatric surgeon, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.
Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush is one of the first in the area to implant the device.
"Caleb is absolutely ideal. He is young and healthy motivated . . . The amount we have lengthened is absolutely unbelievable," said Dr. Kogan.
Once that leg catches up to the other, Conway's spine and gait should improve dramatically. The new bone that grows into the gap will eventually be as strong as his other bones.
He says there were some painful days right after surgery, but the lengthening at home doesn't hurt.
Conway relies on his family for support and focuses on his ultimate goal: to return to college football at the elite level.
"To be able to just lengthen my leg a millimeter a day on my couch. . .That's awesome man," said Conway.
Conway's lengthening process took about three months. The rod will stay in place until the new bone grows in.
Although controversial, this can also be used for cosmetic lengthening. And while this may be easier than other approaches, it still involves surgery and a huge commitment on the part of the patient.
Precice Limb lengthening Device
Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush
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