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Born in Warren, Ohio, Christy Dixon was only two days old when the doctors told Linda and Raymond Dixon of their daughter's birth defect. Christy was born with her right leg three inches shorter than her left leg. The doctors suggested that Christy be referred to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
When Christy was referred to her doctor, W. Timothy Ward, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Children's, her right leg was about three inches shorter than her left leg. Dr. Ward thought that Christy would be an appropriate candidate after she stopped growing for the Ilizarov Device, named after the Russian doctor who invented the device.
The device is a metal framework attached to the limb with steel pins that are surgically inserted through the bone. By turning the attached dials, the patient pulls the two ends of the cut bone apart and a new bone forms in the gap. The new bone will only form if the cut bone is pulled apart very slowly, at the rate of .25 millimeters every six hours. The Ilizarov Device would mean incredible dedication on the part of the patient and the family.
"Dr. Ward talked with Christy and then he talked with us," says Linda. "He was straightforward—he told Christy exactly what he was going to do and how he was going to do it." Christy made the decision," says Raymond. "She knew that she was the one who had to wear it and has to live with it." Christy was fitted with the device and after only two months into the treatment, her femur lengthened a full six centimeters. Then she hit The Wall. "From that point on, joints get stiff and the lengthening process becomes very painful," says Dr. Ward. "In Christy's case, we were very close to quitting, but every time we had thought Christy had reached her limit, she wanted to get going."
The dedication and commitment Christy needed to make this procedure work were enormous. She had to clean her pin sites with peroxide four times a day. She endured 20 minutes of physical therapy three times a day. She could not walk up and down steps, get in and out of a car or even sit down and stand up by herself.
In addition, the lengthening process was a severe strain on Christy's leg. "She started having terrific pain," says Linda, "but we thought it was part of the process. It got to be so excruciating that she quit turning the dials." After taking X-rays, Dr. Ward knew immediately what was wrong. Christy's knee was sliding back on her tibia and dislocating. Christy was fitted with another Ilizarov Device on her lower leg. She now wore two of them.
The device on Christy's lower leg was removed several weeks later. Then came February 1992, the month Christy had been waiting for. Finally she would be free of the device for good. She could be able to walk on two legs of equal length. "Christy made countless visits to my office," said Dr. Ward. "Christy was in her device for almost nine months; she couldn't wait to get it off."
Dr. Ward anticipated that the new bone that was formed in the gap would be weak and unable to support her weight. He told Christy that she would be in a cast for about six weeks until the bone was ready. Surprisingly, it turned out that Christy didn't need a cast; her leg was perfect. Dr. Ward held up Christy's X-rays and said, "Look at that bone, it's as solid as a rock." Christy walked out of the hospital without a cast.
Today, Christy Dixon not only walks, but also runs and lifts weights. "Having this procedure done has also helped me mentally," Christy says. "I used to be self-conscious and quiet-not anymore." Christy is not concerned about the difficulties that life brings, because after coming this far, no mountain is too hard to climb, especially with the help of Children's Hospital.
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Pittsburgh, PA 15224
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