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A new hope
Salvage surgery preserves life and limb

Photo by Dan Bishop

October 2012

When Debra Clissa of Germantown first learned that the pain in her left knee was caused by a tumor, she said, "Tell me how long I have."

"One step at a time," answered Dr. Nicholas Webber, an orthopaedic oncologist with Aurora Advanced Orthopaedics. His specialty is the rare cancers that begin in bone or muscle, and the surgery to rebuild afflicted limbs.

Clissa was diagnosed in December 2011 at age 54 with chondrosarcoma, a cancer of the cartilage and the second most common type of adult bone cancer. While the cancer was aggressive, it had not metastasized (spread) to other areas, and could be treated with surgery alone.

"We usually donít do amputations," Webber says. "Now, in about 90 percent of cases, we can replace the bone affected by cancer."

Limb salvage surgery returns a bone or joint to functionality with metal plates, cadaver bone or an allograft prosthetic composite (APC) ó a combination of both. This technique "is our evolving ability to take an extremity that has become damaged or painful, and return it to the way it was meant to be used," Webber says.

Clissaís surgery in January was an APC to replace her knee and the top 6 inches of her tibia (shin bone). With physical therapy she learned to walk again, progressing from a wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches and to a cane. By summer, Clissa was walking without assistance, back to work, driving, exercising daily and mowing the lawn.

"I do have limits now, but I knew I was going to be fine," she says. "Dr. Webber has amazing skill and such heart. I just had to heal."

Webber expects full recovery in one year. "Debra is on her way back to a pain-free, functional life," he says. "She didnít have to sacrifice her happiness for her cancer."


This story ran in the October 2012 issue of: