Austin Blaylock is just another typical 16-year-old teenager, playing video games, singing in the school choir and wishing he could be on the baseball field.
But for this former Radford youngster, life has been anything but typical. He suffers from a birth defect that affects one in 40,000 births called congenital fibular hemimelia, which is the absence of the fibula and is the most common congenital absence of long bone of the extremities.
The medical definition calls it “the shortening of the fibula at birth, or the complete lack thereof.”
Austin has had nine surgeries since the age of three, and the most recent was three weeks ago in Baltimore, Maryland.
His mother, Melissa Shrouse Garnett, has been by his side for all the procedures. She is a Radford High School graduate. The family had lived in Radford until last year before moving to North Carolina for Garnett’s work.
Shortly after birth, two different orthopedic specialists informed Austin’s parents that amputation was the best route to take. His mother said that was due to the fact Austin would not be able to bear weight on his foot, and it would be much shorter than his right foot.
Typically the amputation takes place at the age of six months with removal of portions of the legs to prepare them for prosthetic use. The family was told his overall expected left leg length discrepancy would total almost five inches by the time he was fully grown.
After consulting with a specialist in Baltimore, Dr. John Hezenberg, at the Mt. Sinai Institute of Advanced Orthopedics, the family decided on the long process of “leg lengthening.”
When he was three years old, Austin had his first surgery that included reconstructing his ankle and foot bones to provide stability as he moved forward. Up until a few years ago, he was able to live somewhat of a normal kid’s life, even playing T-ball and youth baseball through the Radford Recreation Department.
The first real procedure was completed in September 2012 and entailed the placing of eight plates and screws between the lower right knee and the tibia/fibula at the growth plate and another in the upper left knee between the knee and the femur.
The plates were inserted to strengthen his legs as much as possible. In 2015, doctors removed the plates and screws, drilling into the growth plate of his good leg.
Austin has only three toes on his left foot and has no ankle joint, which means he is unable to rotate his foot side to side or up and down. His foot is almost half lthe size of his right foot, meaning he currently wears a size 10 on the right foot and only a size seven on the left.
His latest surgery has been very physically and mentally draining on him and his family.
Garnett said doctors rotated his entire Tibia over 12 degrees outward. They also broke his Tibia and Fibula as well as placing an internal “Precice Nail” (aka. rod) inside the Tibia. It is otherwise known as Limb Lengthening with a new technology that uses a magnet on the inside to connect to a large magnetic device on the outside. As part of that, the family has become very involved in that PT.
“We place this large magnetic device on the outside of his leg and line up to the magnetic on the inside which separates the tibia as it rotates,” Garnett said.
Doctors are hoping that this is his last Limb Lengthening surgery and will add approximate four cm in length in his tibia as well as a 12-degree rotation in his tibia outward.
The family will have to stay near the hospital to maintain proper physical therapy and doctor appointments.
“He is undergoing outpatient PT at the RIAO Outpatient Limb Lengthening Physical Therapy Center at Sinai Hospital three to five times per week and home therapy two times per day, as well as magnetic rotations to lengthen two to three times per day. He has to be non-weight bearing for the entire lengthening process which is six to 12 weeks, and is in in a wheel chair, walker and crutches for mobility,” she said.
This will be the last Limb Lengthening he will need and doctors will remove the nail and screws in about 11 months. The family is unsure about future surgeries in regards to maintaining his medical condition for longevity purposes.
The limb lengthening process has been very expensive. The family has had medical insurance that has covered his hospital stay and medical procedures, however, there was a $5,700 deductible. They have also had many out of pocket expenses for things such as medical equipment (i.e. wheelchair, walker, crutches).
There is also lodging expenses at the Hackerman-Patz House of $420 a week during the continued treatment. Garnett’s employer, MyEyeDr in Greensboro, has helped her to utilize Federal Medical Leave, but she is having to pay insurance premiums out-of-pocket.
But the long journey of leg lengthening has saved Austin’s entire left leg.
“It has been a very long road since birth, with many surgeries in between to make sure you’re maximizing every mm, cm, and inch you can get to make your next lengthening successful. We know we all have to be mentally prepared for the challenges that he faces as the patient, mother, father, grandparents, siblings, etc. It has taken the entire family coming together to support one another and provide a strong foundation for our son to endure this type of lengthy procedure and recovery process,” Garnett said.
The biggest challenge for Garnett is seeing her child in pain, especially this time due to the added nerve pain he’s been experiencing.
“The second biggest challenge is the worry of being able to provide for my children financially during this process while I’m having to be out of work with no pay,” she said.
Austin is very determined focusing on his schoolwork to ensure he can go to a four-year college for Computer Technology. He has also spent his extra time building his own gaming computer and participating in choir at his new school, Southwest Guilford High School, as well as auditioning and participating in All-District and All-State Choirs.
The family is anticipating being home by September as long as there aren’t any complications or additional surgeries needed.
“We will then face the challenge of getting him to/from school and to/from PT each day because he will still be wheel chair bound due to being non-weight bearing. In addition we have approximately 12 stairs in our townhouse and nothing is handicap accessible. We are currently trying to come up with ideas on how to solve all of these problems. We will also have to come back up to Baltimore every four weeks for follow up visits to monitor his progress and bone solidification for that entire year,” Garnett said.
Austin has several members of his immediate family that still live and work in the Radford area.
Austin’s dad, Scott Blaylock, currently works at Rural King in Fairlawn and both sets of his grandparents live in Radford. Melissa’s parents, David and Janice Scarrette, own and operate the Radford Plaza Cinema, and Scott’s Dad, Wayne Blaylock, works at Camrett Logistics in Dublin.
To help the family with expenses, go to HYPERLINK “http://www.gofund.com” www.gofund.com Austin’s Limb Lengthening Fund.