“I want the best quality of life for my son — what any parent would want for their child,” says Michelle, mom to 12-year old Caden.
Caden has spent almost half his life struggling to keep up with his peers after a lawnmower accident badly injured his leg at the age of six. The injury disrupted his growth plate, and was having a significant effect on his growing limb, leading him to have knock-kneed alignment in his right leg. The condition was keeping him from fully experiencing the activities a boy his age normally enjoys; from playing baseball and basketball to walking the amusement park with his family.
“It bothered his dad and I, to see him unable to keep up — and it really bothered him,” Michelle, recalls. “One day, Caden came to me and said, ‘Mom, can you help me?’ and I told him, ‘I will do everything in my power to help you.’”
That’s when Michelle began doing research, spending over a month trying to find the best orthopedic surgeon in the country to help correct Caden’s growing leg.
One email, one reply
She didn’t think she would have much success, but Michelle knew she had to give it a shot. That shot came in the form of an email to Boston Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, an email she considered a prayer. “Within hours I got a response,” she says. “To me, it was a miracle. That’s just how I looked at it. I was thinking that nobody was going to care about this family and this kid from Florida, but they did, and it just blew me away.”
The family flew to Boston and met with Dr. Collin May, an orthopedic surgeon in the Lower Extremity Program and the Trauma Center at Boston Children’s. Dr. May laid out the plan for a procedure to help straighten Caden’s right leg. It involved implanting an “8-plate” to slow down the growth on the inside of the knee’s growth plate, while allowing the outside part of the growth plate to develop unimpeded. “Our goal was to harness the existing growth potential Caden had to correct the deformity,” explains May. As Caden grows, his right leg should straighten out.
Happy to be having surgery
On the day of the surgery, Michelle was nervous, but Caden didn’t seem to be anxious at all. “I watched him carefully from the time we first knew this surgery was going to happen, and the way he’s handled it has amazed me. What child is actually excited to have surgery?” Michelle laughs. “I saw in his eyes that this was giving him hope. He knew good things were happening for him.”
Caden has spent much of his childhood dealing with the stigma associated with having a limb difference — along with functional limitations. This procedure would not only improve his ability to use his leg, but also give him the chance to fit in with the rest of his peers. “I think kids are really eager to get back to living a ‘normal’ life,” explains May. “That’s what I noticed in Caden, he was looking forward to this day because it puts him one step closer to getting better.”
When it was finally time to go into surgery, Caden was unfazed. After he received the anesthesia, he sat back and smiled, telling his parents, “This is great! I’m ready.”
There’s always something that can be done
The procedure went well, and just two days later, Caden was walking around on crutches. The plan now is for him to get x-rays every three months to track his growth and determine how the procedure is holding up. Eventually, the implant may have to be removed — timed appropriately so that it doesn’t overcorrect his growth. Once Caden is done growing, if he happens to have a leg length difference, Dr. May has already discussed with the family that there are other procedures they can do to correct it.
“Dr. May told us post-op that there is always something else that can be done,” Michelle says. “It gives us and Caden hope. To be able to have that positivity means the world to us.”
The vision for Caden’s future is clear, for both his family in Florida and his family of physicians at Boston Children’s: for him to grow to be fully functional with no limitations. “Our expectation is that, by maturity, he’s going to have limbs that are straight, equal in length and functioning well,” says Dr. May. “I believe those are real outcomes we can provide for him. We feel confident in what we can do for Caden.”
As for his parents, the journey that began with a simple email has quickly become a path to hope. “I keep saying, ‘Is this a dream?’ It feels like a miracle that when my son asked for help, it actually came so fast,” Michelle says. “Hope for our son and a better quality of life; those were the two things we needed, and we were given both.”
Learn more about the Lower Extremity Program at Boston Children’s.
Note from Caden’s family: “We would like to thank the following people for their unwavering support: the Donnelly family, the Morin family, the Ramirez family, the Shuker family, the teachers and staff at Pelican Elementary School and Trafalgar Middle School, and last but not least, our immediate family members, who have been beyond amazing.”