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He’s learning to adjust after cancer surgery

After fighting a bone tumor, Sam Grewe of Middlebury has a chance to be his active self again thanks to an unusual surgery that replaces the knee with the ankle.

Posted on April 22, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

MIDDLEBURY — A recent surgery means that Sam Grewe, a Middlebury boy who was diagnosed with cancer in his right knee last winter, should eventually be able to return to the active lifestyle he loves.

Sam was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his right knee in late December and underwent chemotherapy earlier this year. On April 4, he underwent a rotationplasty at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and returned home just a few days later.

In a rotationplasty, a surgeon cuts above and below the knee, removing that part of the leg, and then rotating and reconnecting the ankle and foot to the thigh. A prosthesis can be worn to equal the length of the other leg, with the ankle joint now functioning as a knee.

The goal is that the ankle will be reattached at a height that will be level with the other knee by the time the patient is fully grown. The rotated foot will bend in the direction a lower leg would and will be the basis for a prosthetic calf and foot.

Sam’s doctors are predicting him to reach 6 feet 3 inches from his current 5 feet 10 inches, his mother, Michelle Grewe said.

Michelle said she and husband Randy Grewe chose the rotationplasty because of the size of the cancer and because of new spots doctors found on Sam’s tibia before the surgery.

The rotationplasty should lead to Sam again enjoying an active lifestyle, while the alternative surgery would have resulted in Sam’s leg being at risk in even strong waves in water, according to Michelle.

For now, though, Sam’s days are largely confined to the house, where he often lounges while watching TV, reading, browsing online or undertaking a personal challenge to become super speedy at solving a Rubik’s Cube.

“One of the big battles for Sam right now, in addition to the obvious — having your leg sewn on backwards and the chemotherapy and all that — is just boredom. He’s just so bored,” she said. “He’s used to being able to just get up and go.”

Sam had been a seventh grader at Northridge Middle School, active in basketball and football, but is taking the rest of the year off because of frequent hospital visits and the time to recuperate.

He’ll be fit for a prosthetic leg in four weeks, eventually also going to physical therapy to begin strengthening his right leg. Because the doctors don’t actually cut the nerves or blood vessels in a rotationplasty, Michelle explained, Sam was able to move the toes on his right foot as soon as the epidural wore off after surgery. He can easily move his toes and ankle, but it’s currently a bit more challenging to move them the direction he intends. Because his foot now faces the opposite direction it did, when Sam wants to point his toes right, they turn the way they would have before surgery, which is now to his left. Michelle explained that Sam is working on trying to realign how his brain controls that foot.

This week, he’ll begin another round of chemotherapy, this time at Memorial Hospital in South Bend instead of in Indianapolis. Michelle said that the coming chemo is just an added reassurance to be sure the cancer is gone and does not reappear. The family isn’t sure how long chemo will last. The Mayo Clinic is examining the new spots doctors found around Sam’s knee before surgery and the Clinic’s analysis will determine if Sam’s chemo lasts through August or October, with weeks of chemo followed by weeks off.

Sam, his parents and sister Audrey have found some routine through the ever-changing days of the last few months, but new experiences are still ahead. They’ve gotten to know staff at their usual hospitals and know what to expect as far as Sam’s reaction to chemotherapy, Michelle said, but now are researching where to have Sam fitted for his prosthetic leg and preparing for physical therapy.

After that, Sam’s life may return to his more usual days before his cancer diagnosis.

“By all accounts,” Michelle said, “he should be able eventually to do any of that stuff, any of the sports.”

“It will be a happy day when he doesn’t have to use the crutches,” she said.

***

Several people are losing weight as a fundraiser for the Sam Grewe family.

According to Brenda Dwyer, several people, including local pastor Rich Troyer, who is also Sam’s uncle, will be losing weight from Monday through June 23, with all donations given for their effort going to the Grewe family.


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