Surgery Breakthrough Stretches Girl's Arm

A 9-year-old girl with a rare bone condition had successful arm-lengthening.

ByABC News via GMA logo
February 9, 2009, 9:44 AM

Dec. 21, 2007 — -- A pioneering new surgery technique is a dream come true for a 9-year-old Arkansas girl with a rare bone disease.

Lauren McCabe was born with a left arm nearly two inches shorter than her right, a condition that has kept her from being able to lead a normal life.

"I can't really ride bikes, I can't really bowl and I can't swim with my arm like that," explained Lauren. Her disease has also had an effect on her self-confidence, like the time she entered her local Miss Strawberry Pageant.

"One time in the Strawberry, I actually had my arm in front so I put it behind my back so nobody could ever notice it."

Her disability and disfigurement was getting progressively worse every year. "The condition is a condition where instead of growing long and straight, the bones grow bent and short and branches," explained Dr. Aronson, chief of pediatrics at Arkansas Children's Hospital, who is one of the pioneers of the bone surgery that Lauren had.

"What we're doing is a bone lengthening, which means that we have to gently crack a bone so that its blood supply is preserved, stabilize the bone with pins that connect to the outside, a frame, and through that frame we stretch the bone very slowly," said Dr. Aronson. At two and a half hours, the surgery is relatively quick.

The actual process of lengthening the bone though takes months. While Lauren healed, doctors stretched the bone one millimeter a day with a motorized device. As they slowly separate the bone and pull it apart, new bone grows to close the gab, thus lengthening the limb. It's painstakingly slow so it doesn't hurt.

After about five months doctors removed the device and fitted Lauren for a cast. "Good Morning America" met Lauren at the hospital on the special day the cast came off and found her full of excitement for the future.

Before long she was chatting about the confidence she'd have cheerleading. "I'll hold it. I'm gonna wave and everything," says Lauren.