At 24 centimeters long, a tumor was the cause of Oliver’s pain. The same day as the revealing X-ray, the Coombes family moved from the UF Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. Oliver underwent an MRI and a biopsy a week later.
“We were immediately taken upstairs to 42 Peds and admitted for the ride of our lives,” Christine recalled. “It all felt so foreign and scary.”
Outside of Oliver’s room, she remembered how the hallway smelled sterile, mixed with the aroma from a microwave meal. Linoleum floors and fluorescent lights surrounded the 9-year-old and his family.
“We cried in those rooms. We bled. We laughed,” Christine said. “We shared our lives with the most amazing group of nurses and doctors imaginable.”
After two and a half months of chemotherapy, the time came to remove the tumor. Christine and her husband had lengthy conversations about the best procedure for their son. They talked to doctors and researchers. They talked to friends and families of other kids with osteosarcoma. That’s when they decided on rotationplasty.
Rotationplasty is a surgery where the middle section of the leg is amputated to remove the tumor. Then, the lower leg is rotated 180 degrees and reattached at the thigh. Oliver would then need a prosthetic leg where his heel acts as a knee joint.
“Insert my head spinning off and more tears and ugly crying than I thought imaginable,” Christine said. “But, ‘normal is not an option,’ right? So, we pushed on.”
A Casual Conversation
With the surgery identified, the next step was telling Oliver and his sister, Emma. How do you tell a 9-year-old about rotationplasty? Equally important is when do you tell them? Will there be enough time to process? So many questions swirled for Christine.
“We kept hearing, ‘Kids are amazing. You’ll be amazed,’” Christine said. “But, it didn’t feel that way to us. It felt sad and tragic.”
Christine and Steve were meticulous to ensure the mention of rotationplasty didn’t appear too rehearsed. They strived for a casual conversation. Serious but not too serious.
They explained the procedure to Oliver and detailed what life would look like post-surgery.
The room was quiet.
“So, you’re telling me I’m going to have a robotic leg?” Oliver asked.
“Yes, buddy, you are,” Steve responded.
Oliver slapped the back of a chair.
“YES!” he yelled with excitement.
“Kids are amazing,” thought Christine. At that moment, much of the fear, dread and anxiety melted away. She knew her son was equipped for the arduous road ahead.