Tuesday, December 9, 2014

External Fixation Device

What I hope this post brings is hope. As cheesy as that sounds, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through in my life. I know there are kids, adults and many others out there seeking answers to this medical procedure. I also know there are close friends of mine who don't know very much about what happened. So here you go:

The surgery I had was due to a broken femur and growth plate. I broke my leg playing soccer at age 10 and for about four years, I had at least two surgeries a year. The last (major) surgery I had was when I was 14.

My Doctor at Primary Children's in SLC had to re-brake my leg. She cut the bone in half, and inserted 5 screws. These screws would then pull, stretch, and twist my leg to its correct length and position. The device they attached looked like a halo around my leg. At least, that’s what I called it: my halo. But the technical term for it is an external fixation device.

It’s hard to describe what this device looked like, so here are some pictures:

Looking at the device, it looks pretty crazy, right? the colorful poles are called "struts"
I would twist those, and they in turn would move the screw which would move my bone.
At the end of the six months, I duct taped them so they wouldn't move anymore. This was
taken on one of my last days with the device on.

Looking down onto the device brings back lots of memories. All those screws went half-
way through my bone. And EVERY night I (or my mom), would clean the pin sites to make sure
no infections or germs traveled down the screw into my bone.

My daily routine was pretty much set in stone. The mornings were ruff. Mainly because the pain killers I had taken during the night had generally worn off by then. I would eat some breakfast, and I never ate a lot. Just enough so I could take more pain killers. Most of my days consisted of watching TV. The worst of the six-month period was during the summer, so I had lots of free time to kill. The first month was very lazy. My dad bought a Wii that summer specifically because he knew I couldn't do much else besides that.

But I was an active girl. So after those first rough weeks of learning how to deal with metal sticking out of me, I tried doing knew things. I would have family members wheel me to the ball park down the street and watch some baseball or softball. One time my family even went to a local a theme park! I got to ride on a few of the rides where the device fit. I even went on a trip to Mexico! I got to play in the ocean and hang out in the pools. The only contingency from my doctor was that I had to make sure I cleaned my leg really well. So with that suggestion, I decided to go camping for an entire week with my youth church group too. We were in the mountains, two hours away from anything. I had a youth leader who made me sweatpants that fit over my bad leg so no dirt would get it. People liked to make fun of it at camp by saying, "Sherri, I heard we're going to have some lightening, you should stay inside so your leg doesn't get you burned up!" At that comment, I would go inside. I didn't want to be a lightning rod for the whole camp!

About three months in to the process, I started going to physical therapy. I hadn't bent my leg for three months so my muscle started to atrophy. My doctor was very worried. Most of her worry came from the fact that my leg was stuck straight. I could not bend it what so ever. It was a painful situation. All together I was in physical therapy for about 9 months working on my motion. After a year of painful, but hopeful, recovery, I was back to my old self.

Having an external fixation device is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. It took me out high school sports my freshman year, I spent more time driving to and from doctors appointments than I did almost anything else. I had more x-rays than I can count and patience was something I had to learn quickly. But it helped me heal, and that was the only way I was going to be healthy and happy. But it did not impede my entire life! I still went and had fun. I did cool things and I learned from it. So if you, or your child or friend or parent is having to go through it, don’t sweat it! Because if you can survive and external fixation device, you can survive anything! 

Sherri Riggs
-the Survivor Girl

If you have any other questions, or want to know more details about specific parts of the process, I'd be glad to answer them. Head to my contact page, or leave a comment!