CINCINNATI -- Life for Ben Brenner has changed — for the better.
After limping for years because one leg was nearly two inches shorter than the other, Brenner is now walking evenly after a surgeon at UC Health used a breakthrough technology to lengthen his leg.
The technology uses an expandable rod, called the Precice Internal Limb Lengthening Nail, manufactured by Ellipse Technologies Inc.
“It’s based around a magnetic motor that’s inside telescoping rods that allow lengthening inside the body,” explained Dr. John Wyrick.
Wyrick is the first surgeon at UC Health’s Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine to lengthen a leg with this new technology.
“The quality of my life has multiplied ten-fold,” said Brenner. “It’s like I got myself back.”
Brenner, age 35, is married and works as a counselor at Sycamore Junior High School.
When he was in seventh grade, a devastating car accident shattered his left femur and destroyed the growth plate in his left hip. Brenner was a talented football and soccer player at the time and worked hard to get back onto the playing field. But as he continued to grow, his left leg did not.
“It was hard to be at the top of my game,” Brenner said. “And it would definitely take a toll on my shins, on my back. I was sore after the fact.”
As an adult, he tried to live a normal, active life, but over time, Brenner’s uneven legs triggered more intense back pain, as well as pain in his legs and hip.
Brenner sought help from doctors and chiropractors and even tried shoe lifts.
Finally, he found Wyrick at UC Health, who told him about the new Precice limb-lengthening technology. The system had been used for young patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center but had never been tried at UC Health.
As a father of three active little boys, one age 4 and twins, age 2, Brenner was eager to try it.
“One of the biggest reasons I did this is so I can play with my boys,” he said.
Lengthening a leg takes teamwork.
The initial procedure took place in August 2014. Wyrick made a horizontal cut through Brenner’s femur (thighbone), cutting the bone into two segments. He inserted the Precice nail, a telescoping rod, into the upper end of the femur and down through both segments of the bone.
Each day, Brenner expanded the rod by holding a remote control device over his leg.
“He is able to motorize that nail (rod) so that it lengthens from the inside,” explained Wyrick.
The magnetic interaction between the remote controller and the rod inside Brenner’s leg lengthened the rod and slowly separated the two bone segments, allowing new bone to generate and fill in the gap.
“The way it regenerates the bone is like a fracture heals,” said Wyrick. “The body lays down hematoma, or blood product, which becomes protein. The calcium calcifies that protein, and then it will heal just like a fracture heals.”
Wyrick says that an inch of growth takes about one month. The bone is lengthened about one millimeter a day. Over time, the new bone matures.
After two months, Brenner’s leg bone was strong enough to bear weight. Gradually, he started to walk without crutches and began physical therapy. Eight months after the procedure, he actually ran a 5K race.
“Back spasms, leg pain — it’s all gone. It’s hard to believe that finally doing this has fixed all that for me.”
Brenner is extremely grateful to Wyrick. “Together we made this happen. It was teamwork all the way,” said Brenner.
Just before the holidays, more than a year after the procedure, the rod that lengthened his leg was removed.
Brenner jokes that the leg-lengthening procedure was the best decision he’s made since marrying his wife. He now looks forward to running after their little boys.