Pioneering SA limb reconstruction surgery a success

Four hours of pioneering surgery paved the way for 25-year-old Trevor Mntungwa to get back on his feet and continue his community outreachwork.

Trevor’s life-changing surgery was performed by orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Franz Birkholtz, assisted by his Russian counterpart, Dr Alexander Cherkashin, at Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion, Pretoria. Dr Cherkashinis credited with the design of the latest advancements in circular fixator technology, which was used to make it possible for Trevor to walk upright. 

Diagnosed with Blount’s disease, Trevor has never been able to enjoy the activities that most people take for granted. Even getting out of bed in the morning and taking a shower, mundane tasks for most of us, took him an inordinate amount of time.

A struggle to walk

Blount's disease, a growth disorder of the shin bone that causes a severe inward angling of the lower legs, also made it impossible for him to do such things as riding a bicycle or playing soccer. Despite his disability, Trevor, who works for an international organisation, Soul of the Spirit founded by Pastor Lloyd Peterson,would spend hours walking long distances in Welbedacht West in Chatsworth, KwaZulu-Natal, to help others.

“I always wanted to help people, but due to my condition I was struggling to walk and had difficulty getting to all the people in the community. My legs weregetting progressively worse and I was scared I would lose them,” said Trevor. 

While doing missionary work both Trevor and Pastor Peterson tried to find out what could be done to ensure that he would be able to walk with ease. “I asked God if there was something we could do and searched all over the world to get help for Trevor,” says Pastor Peterson. 

After several dead-ends Trevor got to know about thework Dr Birkholtz had done on circular fixatorsat Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion, Pretoria. “We sent him a clip of Trevor that I had filmed,” (see the video below) says Pastor Peterson. 

“The video clip struck a nerve,” says Dr Birkholtz who together with his team offered their services pro bono to ensure that Trevor received complex reconstructive surgery using the latest technology. 

How the surgery was done

The surgery performed on Trevor on 7 December 2012, was one of the first of its kind using a new circular external fixator called the TL-Hex. It involved fixing the community leader’s legs in advanced external fixation devices, which were donated by Macromed. “This was followed by carefully cutting through Trevor’s bone and then gradually straightening out his legs using external fixators”, explains Dr Birkholtz. The fixator adjustments were calculated using advanced computer software. 

“The fixations are temporary and will be removed when Trevor’s bones have become strong enough using his body’s own healing powers, to carry the weight of his legs,” says Dr Birkholtz. 

Trevor’ssurgery was performed during one of NetcareUnitas Hospital’s highly esteemed trainingweeks. Dr Birkholtz and his team at the hospital regularly host surgeons from across the globe to teach advanced limb reconstruction techniques. “By empowering more surgeons to become skilled in limb reconstruction many morepatients could benefit from this technology,” says Dr Birkholtz.

Trevorhas fully recovered and was discharged from hospital on Thursday, 17 January 2013. “Our patient is doing extremely well and is going home to KwaZulu-Natal to resume his community work,” said Dr Birkholtz.  

Speaking upon his discharge Trevor said: “I am very happy. I underwent this operation by God’s grace. I am so excited”.

(Press release, Netcare, January 2013)

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