Legs That Will Be Straight

The phone call came as it does to many parents at some point in the growing-up years of their children. Colleen had fallen off the jungle gym at school, and could I please pick her up? When I got there, our 11-year-old was in a lot of pain and the emergency room staff soon confirmed that she had broken her right leg, just above the knee.

Two days later, she came home from the hospital with a full-length cast bulging at the middle from two long rods holding the broken bone in place. I felt bad for her—it was a serious break—but silently assured myself with a smile that this was just another rite of passage for an active child.

I was wrong.

Now, two years and three major surgeries later, Colleen is in rehabilitation to learn to walk correctly again, this time with titanium clamps and plates screwed into both femurs and 10-inch scars on her thighs. She's looking with little enthusiasm at another visit to the surgeon to remove all the hardware and is not pleased that she may lose as much as two inches from her adult height.

All this from a little playground mishap that has taught big lessons to a young girl and her family. Lessons about enduring pain and imagining a future without sutures and crutches and sleepless nights in noisy hospitals. Lessons about really tough choices parents sometimes have to make, and never ever knowing if they made the right ones.

It turned out that the original injury had destroyed the growth plate responsible for 40 percent of the length of her right leg. Her doctors felt the condition required closing the growth plate on her left leg to pre-empt the inevitable discrepancy that would result in a lifelong hobble.

They were right and they were wrong, we found out later: The right growth plate wasn't completely closed by the break, and they didn't completely close the left one through surgery.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1997
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