A schoolboy who was born with one leg half the length of the other has taken his first steps – after having his right leg stretched by a record 12 inches.
Brave Michael McKenzie, 12, had his leg broken five times by surgeons so his new limb could be ‘stretched’ by a metal frame at the rate of one millimetre per day.
His devoted mum Ginette, 36, sold her house and raised £80,000 to pay for the procedure in America after British doctors told her the only option was amputation.
And yesterday her labour of love finally paid off when Michael took his first steps at the family home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.
Michael, who wants to be a doctor when he grows up, said: ”It’s really exciting to finally be able to walk. It’s worth it after all the years and the hard work that me and mum have put in.
”My mum and my nan were both crying when I started walking and my tutors can’t believe it when they see me.
”Now I want to be a doctor and help people myself when I’m older. I think I’ll be able to understand them better because of what I’ve been through.
”I would say to anyone in the same position to keep looking to the future and stay positive.”
Michael was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), meaning the hip and knee joints in his right leg were fused and his right foot was level with his left knee.
He has no knee cap or cruciate ligaments and when he was born his femur was so small it did not show up on X-rays.
Doctors estimated that when fully grown, he would have a discrepancy of up to 40cm between his legs and refused to carry out the lengthening operation.
As he grew, Michael used a series of prosthetic legs attached to his own leg to increase its length and allow him to get around.
Over the last six years, he has had his leg broken five times and spent more than three years with his leg in a frame – until his leg can now finally bear weight.
After consulting doctors around the world, Ginnette, who remortgaged her home to pay the bill, convinced American limb lengthening specialist Dr Dror Paley to take on Michael’s case.
She said: ”Michael was finally cleared by Bristol Children’s Hospital to weight-bear and we collected his built-up shoe.
”Since then he has been making tentative steps around the house with crutches and I can’t tell you how many tissues mum and I have got through.
”There seem to be so many children like Michael who are told to have amputations now, but I want people to know that there are options.
”I was told to have his leg amputated so many times, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I thought there had to be another way.”
All Michael’s operations began with doctors breaking his thigh bone. A metal frame was then fitted, leaving a small gap between the bones for the new bone to grow in to.
Michael’s mum Ginnette then had to adjust the gap by a millimetre each day for up to three months as the new bone fuses onto the old one.
After his leg reached the required length following an operation, Michael was forced to spend between six and eight weeks in a full body cast from his chest to his ankles to give his body time to heal.
He first went under the knife in 2003 at Dr. Paley’s theatre in Baltimore, Maryland to add 7cm to his leg.
Two years later he was back in the U.S. at the same clinic, where another 8cm was added.
Then in 2008 British surgeon Mr Fergal Monsell – the only surgeon who would operate in the UK – carried out a third op at Bristol Children’s Hospital to stretch it by a further 6cm.
Finally last year he had another 10cm, twice the recommended length, added making a total of 31cm – or 12 inches, during which his leg had to be broken twice.
Michael now holds the record for the longest leg stretching surgery in history.
Ginette added: ”It’s been really tough for Michael, but he copes really well with the pain so he has got the most out of each operation.
”In the last one he managed to get a full 10cm of length when the maximum recommended stretch is 5cm. He’s so brave.”
He now faces an operation to create a joint in his knee and to create a hip joint which will allow him to sit and bend.
The result of the operations is that Michael now has a 7cm discrepancy between his good leg and his bad leg.
As he continues to grow he will have a pin inserted into his good leg to slow down its growth and allow the shorter leg to catch up.
At the moment he finds it difficult to sit as he cannot bend at the hip or knee, but operations to give him a false knee and hip will allow him some movement.
Michael will always have a limp, but doctors hope that they can reduce the difference between his legs to 4cm – just a tenth of the 40cm difference he would have had without intervention.
Full-time mum Ginette lives with her mum Kathryn, 65, Michael’s sister Tammy, 15, and brother Jevan, five.