Living an active life after amputation: Paige’s story

For the Welch family, their trip to Trinidad seemed like a near-perfect vacation. They had just attended a beautiful wedding, and a day later Racquel, her nephew Lance and her daughter Paige were kayaking off a popular location under the mid-afternoon sun.

However, their dream trip turned into a nightmare when a run-away speedboat came careening into the area where the three were paddling, smashing their kayak and sending them tumbling into the ocean. Despite his serious injuries, Lance heroically dove deep into the water to pull Paige to the surface. Fortunately for all, a nearby Coast Guard boat witnessed the accident and helped pulled them from the water.  And while the quick rescue prevented their potential drowning, the damage to the family’s bodies had been done. Racquel had crushed bones in her arm and back, as well as deep tears in her shoulder, leg and eye. Lance’s foot had been severed in the accident, and Paige’s arm had been nearly torn from her body from the elbow down.

The family was rushed to nearby medical centers where their conditions were stabilized. Lance’s foot was reattached, as was Paige’s arm. However, it wasn’t long before she began experiencing complications. Just two days after her surgery, it was clear that her young daughter needed more advanced treatment than what was available. Paige and her father Clark were then flown from Trinidad to Boston Children’s Hospital where she could receive the level of care she needed. (Due to her injuries, Racquel needed more time to heal—it would be two weeks until she was well enough to join her family in Boston.)

Amir Taghinia, MD

Upon her arrival in Boston, Paige was first seen by David Mooney, MD, director of Boston Children’s Trauma Program, who determined that though serious, Paige’s injuries were not life-threatening, so her care was transferred to the team at the Hand and Reconstructive Microsurgery Program at Boston Children’s. There, she met Amir Taghinia, MD, and Brian Labow, MD, the two doctors who would care for her over the next several weeks.

“When I first saw her arm, I knew that the initial surgeries hadn’t done enough to preserve the limb and that she had lost a lot of blood,” Taghinia remembers. “We monitored her condition for a little over a week, but it was clear that most of the tissue below her elbow was dying and at risk of becoming infected.”

Given her deteriorating condition, Taghinia and Labow decided amputation was the best treatment option. The two doctors, assisted by a full team of specialists, carefully removed all tissue below her forearm. But the location of Paige’s injury made the procedure tricky; once the limb was removed, there was little excess skin and soft tissue to cover the exposed bone. To compensate, the doctors took a flap of tissue from Paige’s back and reattached it to the amputated area. After nine hours in surgery, Paige’s medical team had successfully removed all the dead tissue from her injury, cushioning the area with healthy tissue from her own body.

“That was a long day. A very long day,” Racquel says, remembering the hours she spent in the waiting room during her daughter’s surgery. “But the medical team was very good about keeping us updated. Every couple of hours, a nurse came in to let us know how the operation was progressing. The fact that they were able to replace so many of her arteries and nerves, which are so tiny, still blows my mind.”

Paige

While the amputation meant Paige was finally out of immediate danger, she was far from fully healed. Over the next month, she remained in the hospital where her doctors could monitor her and engage her with light physical therapy. (More extensive physical therapy would come later, after the area became less sensitive to touch and movement.) In a month’s time, she was discharged from the hospital but returned to Boston Children’s once a week for check-ups, gradually coming in less and less often as the healing process continued.

The family lived in the neighboring state of New Hampshire, a three-hour round trip to Boston. Because the distance could be difficult for the family to make, Paige’s medical team arranged for a physical therapist to work with her at home and communicate her status back to the team in Boston. During this recovery time, Paige’s school launched their first Skype classes to keep her up-to-date on her studies, and six months after her accident, Paige returned to school.

She was nervous at first to see how her peers would react to her altered appearance, but after her first meeting with two close friends, she knew her worries were largely overblown. “When they first saw me, it was quiet for about a second,” Paige says. “Then my friend said, ‘Well, you’re missing part of your arm, but other than that you look the same!’ After that, we laughed, and I haven’t thought too much about it ever since.”

Today Paige is a high school junior and a star member of her school’s tennis team. Since the accident, she’s made a few adjustments to her game (to serve she holds the racket and ball in the same hand, tosses the ball in the air while quickly readjusting her grip, and then follows through with her serve) and hopes to compete at the collegiate level soon.

Given the extent of her injuries, the fact that her daughter can even hold a racket— never mind play at the level where she’s looking at college tennis programs—still amazes Racquel, who says that she and her family have everyone at Boston Children’s to thank for her daughter’s incredible recovery.

“Boston Children’s was so professional and understanding, from the guys who ran the valet service to the top surgeons,” she says with a smile. “Given everything we went through, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to come for treatment. It made a difficult time far less overwhelming for all of us.”

To learn more about Boston Children’s Hand and Reconstructive Microsurgery Program visit them online, or call 617-355-7252.