Dugan Smith was a 10-year-old kid who was told he had a malignant cancer in his thigh bone, meaning his leg and knee would have to be amputated.
Because his other options for leg replacement would have limited Dugan’s ability to play baseball again, doctors performed (at his request) a rare and risky procedure known as a rotationplasty.
His lower leg was removed, turned 180-degrees, then reattached where his femur would be.
Here’s what happens: The diseased portion of the leg is removed, and then the lower portion (containing the lower shin, ankle, and foot) is turned 180 degrees and grafted back onto the upper thigh. The ankle functions as a knee, the foot becomes the upper shin, and a prosthetic leg then fills out the lower portion.
The boy didn’t seem to care about the risks, which were several. He didn’t care about the recovery time, which would be long. And he didn’t care about the possible awkwardness, both physically and emotionally.
Dugan wanted to play baseball.
“It wasn’t a question in his mind,” Dustin says.
Dad wasn’t quite ready to take yes for an answer. He was Dugan’s coach, and he didn’t want a charity case on his hands.
“I’m going to be pushing you,” he told his only boy. “You’re not going to like me very much.”
Dugan didn’t care. The decision had been made: Baseball or bust.
But can he really play baseball? Yes:
The surgery would be brutal. It took a total of 25 hours. There was so much swelling that doctors had to leave the leg wide open and Dugan could actually see his muscles flex as he tried to recover. He spent two weeks in the ICU. Then chemo. Then the pain of adjusting to the first prosthetic leg. Then four more prosthetic replacement legs after that.
You’d think, just once, Dugan would say, “Enough.” Maybe during one sleepless night or one agonizing moment, he’d give up.
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