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Fixing Matthew’s Leg - One Millimeter at a Time

Matt Craig - BeachIn June 2013, 15-year-old Matthew and his family were at their house on Lake Livingston enjoying some family time when tragedy struck.  While tubing behind a jet ski, Matthew suddenly crashed into a boat dock. Right before impact, Matthew attempted to protect his head as best he could and swung his legs around, which bore the brunt of the crash.  His mother, Brenda, saw it happen and was there in an instant to grab her son out of the water.  “I don’t think any of us knew how bad his injuries were at that point.  We knew his left leg was broken and that we had to get him to the hospital for treatment,” describes Brenda. 

The first responders at the scene were the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department. After evaluating Matt’s injuries, they made the decision to call a helicopter for the transport. While waiting for the helicopter to land, it quickly became apparent to the family that their son’s injuries were more severe.  Matthew had damaged his femoral artery, a large artery in the thigh, along with a broken femur and tibia, requiring immediate surgery. Matthew was taken by helicopter to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, one of only two Level I pediatric trauma centers in the Greater Houston area.  

Saving Matthew’s Leg

On call that night was Alfred Mansour, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and director of pediatric orthopedic surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Upon arrival, Matthew was immediately rushed to the OR for his first of many surgeries.  This procedure lasted approximately six to eight hours due to the extensive damage sustained in the accident.  “The surgeons were very concerned about Matthew’s leg because it was an open fracture in a marine environment with a very high risk of infection,” Matthew’s mom, Brenda, recalled. 

Matt Craig - WaterWhen Dr. Mansour gave the family an update on Matthew’s condition, they discovered that he was missing four inches of his tibia and would require another surgery to repair the damage.  According to Dr. Mansour, “the process for us was to first save the leg, prevent any infection, put his femur back together, fix the lower part of Matthew’s leg and allow his body to heal.” During his initial procedure, Matthew’s surgical team placed antibiotic beads in his leg to reduce the risk of infection. 

During Matthew’s second surgery, Dr. Mansour brought in an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the Ilizarov procedure used to lengthen or reshape limb bones.  The Ilizarov method utilizes a series of external rings attached to one another with tensioned wires and half pins transfixed to the bone.  This is used to stabilize the entire bone and was necessary to heal and lengthen Matthew’s tibia. During the two weeks Matthew spent in the hospital, had four adjustments per day with the Ilizarov, which allows for bone regrowth in one millimeter increments.  Once Matthew was released from the hospital, his treatment continued with eight months of round-the-clock use of the Ilizarov external fixator.  At the end of those eight months, Matthew’s tibia had grown the necessary four inches.

Over the course of the next year and a half, Dr. Mansour performed 10 surgeries on Matthew’s left leg.  In addition, Matthew spent another 18 months in physical therapy.  As his mom, Brenda, states “We have little doubt in our minds that Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital saved Matthew’s life, and leg.

Walking away healed

“Unless you knew what my son had gone through, you would never know he had any issues with his leg.  His recovery was truly miraculous – and it is due entirely to the emergency medicine team and pediatric orthopedic surgeons at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.” 

“If you have to take away any goodness from the adversity, this has brought us closer as a family.  As difficult as this was for us, we are very grateful to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.”

“We were confident that Matthew was going to be back at 100 percent like he was prior to the accident,” says Dr. Mansour. “This was a total team effort – we are all passionate about what we do and as a team of specialists, we do it together in harmony.”

As a direct result of his experience, Matthew now serves on the Patient Advisory Council at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, a council made up of kids and teens who want to give power to the patient's voice and improve their experience.