Nothing daunts eleven year old Toni

Dr. Turcotte realized that another surgery would be necessary. Toni had her operation on July 2 at The Children's, and is currently recovering.

On February 19, 2009, Toni happily heads off to school. During recess, she is pushed by a classmate, falls and hurts her knee. She hobbles home. This would be the beginning of quite an ordeal…

Toni was in pain. Taking no chances, her mother, Valerie, took her to the neighbourhood clinic to undergo a series of x-rays. Nothing showed up on the x-rays but Toni’s condition persisted. Two days later, her mother took her to The Children’s where it was discovered that she had a fractured tibia. Toni’s leg was put in a cast. Three weeks later, when the cast was removed, her leg was an alarming colour.

“At the upper end of the tibia, her leg had swollen to the size of a grapefruit,” recalls Valerie. It was then that Dr. Robert Turcotte, Chief of the Department of Orthopedics and Medical Director of the MUHC Sarcoma Program, also on staff at The Children’s, stepped into the picture. Various tests and a subsequent biopsy confirmed Valerie’s worst fears: Toni was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a malignant bone tumour) of the left tibia. And a schoolyard incident had precipitated this diagnosis.

Eleven weeks of intensive chemotherapy began immediately. Then on March 26 - her birthday - Toni faced the most difficult ordeal of her life: “Dr. Turcotte asked me if I wanted to hear the news for myself or if I’d prefer him to step outside the room to talk with my mom. I wanted to hear what he had to say, but when I heard it, I was scared to death,” relates Toni.

Dr. Turcotte told us that surgery would be necessary; he also explained the options: rotationplasty, reconstruction or downright amputation. “I didn’t want them to cut my leg off, absolutely not,” Toni relates bravely.

Af ter lengthy conversations with both Toni and Dr. Turcotte, Valerie finally opted for reconstruction, despite the risks associated with recovery from this procedure. As Valerie recalls, “at the time, it was the only option I could imagine. I decided to give it a shot, and Dr. Turcotte respected my choice.”

The surgery went very well, but numerous blisters soon appeared on Toni’s leg. She was in pain and discomfort, and could hardly move. “I was devastated to see her suffering so much,” says Valerie. But her condition eventually improved, and she was allowed to return home. In September, however, she was rushed to Emergency at The Children’s with a violent fever. Her vital signs declining rapidly, she was transferred to Intensive Care with symptoms of an acute infection. Dr. Turcotte quickly performed surgery to remove the prosthesis he had installed during reconstruction.

Toni was put on several weeks of antibiotics to fight the infection. Then last December, Dr. Turcotte - whom Toni now fondly refers to as her “Gentle Giant” - rolled up his sleeves again and went to work, this time to perform a rotationplasty. This procedure involves amputating the leg above the knee, rotating the lower portion of the leg 180 degrees (giving it the appearance of a foot turned backwards) and then reattaching it to the thigh. The reversed ankle functions as a knee joint providing mobility for a prosthesis.

Since surgery, Toni has been doing fine. She had her last maintenance chemotherapy session last November 25. She must undergo monthly tests and take medication for another year, but her general condition is steadily improving. Last March 4, she received a brand new prosthesis, which will enable her to walk on her own and even play sports.

For her mom, this last year has been extremely difficult. “Dr. Turcotte is definitely the best. He knows how to relate to kids on their level, and even gets down on his knees to talk to them. I never would have imagined a doctor acting with such compassion! And I never would have survived this ordeal without the support of Dr. Turcotte and the extraordinary Child Life Services at The Children’s.”

Recently, Toni agreed to be spokesperson for the One million kilometres, one million dollars fundraising event – she is living proof that nothing daunts her and that small steps can lead to giant strides. Thanks Toni!

© 2018 The Montreal
Children’s Hospital Foundation

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