When 3-year-old Mark Blinder developed pain in his right arm, doctors diagnosed him with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone tumor. Chemotherapy wasn’t working and radiation would have destroyed the growth plates in his bones. So instead of amputating the arm, doctors tried an experimental approach–implanting an artificial, expandable bone made of titanium and cobalt chrome, designed specifically for Mark. The bone, produced by the company Biomet Inc., is small enough to fit inside the 3-year-old’s arm, but should be sturdy enough to last his entire life. Most artificial bones are used to replace only part of a bone, so they are glued securely to remaining bone. In Mark’s case, the entire humerus was being removed, so the prosthetic had to be attached to soft tissue [Los Angeles Times].
To install the bone, doctors first had to remove the tumor by carving out the fat around it, a process one of the doctor’s likened to carving out a peach pit without ever touching the pit. The surgery was a success but Mark, who is now 4 years old, underwent chemotherapy as a precaution. Mark is gradually relearning how to use his arm. He’s moving his wrist and fingers, can pick up small objects, and is receiving physiotherapy to rebuild strength and flexibility in the elbow and shoulder. He won’t ever regain full function in those joints, but he is using the arm more each day, his mother said [Los Angeles Times]. He will have to undergo three or four minor surgeries over the years so doctors can extend the prosthetic bone as he grows–but since the only other option open to Mark was amputating his arm completely, he probably won’t complain.
Science Not Fiction: Dr. Terminator: The Prosthetics Designer Who Makes Sci-Fi Sculptures
DISCOVER: High Powered Prosthetics: a bionic muscle 100 times stronger than yours
DISCOVER: Neural Prosthetics may be the next frontier