Prior to his first high school football game in March 2021, 16-year-old Carson had pain that radiated throughout his left leg. He assumed it was nothing more than a strained hamstring, as many athletes experience. After only three plays in that first game, Carson broke his left ankle. He was taken to urgent care where he received an x-ray followed by a cast. In the following days, he was seen by a specialized sports chiropractor to help alleviate his hamstring pain. The chiropractor felt that Carson’s pain was not a typical injury, and he was evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher Woodson, who felt a mass in Carson’s proximal fibula, near the knee. Dr. Woodson ordered an MRI to further evaluate the mass.
After the MRI was completed, Dr. Woodson called Carson’s mother, Shannon. He said he had studied the imaging scans and believed he found a tumor. He recommended that Carson be seen by the experts at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach for specialized care. Miller Children’s & Women’s has a Bone & Soft Tissue Tumor Program dedicated to the diagnosis, removal and treatment of benign and malignant bone tumors and soft tissue sarcomas.
The program is overseen by a dedicated pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Amy Williams, who is fellowship trained in both pediatric orthopedic surgery and musculoskeletal oncology, making Miller Children’s & Women’s one of the only children’s hospitals in the region to have an in-house surgeon specializing in both areas of care.
To treat patients like Carson, who have cancerous bone tumors, the Orthopedic Center team collaborates seamlessly with the Jonathan Jacques Children’s Cancer Institute team. The blending of the two specialty teams gives patients and families access to a multi-disciplinary panel of experts including pediatric oncologists, physical therapists, dietitians, psychologists, social workers and more to offer patients the highest level of expertise and best possible outcome.
“As a nurse at Long Beach Medical Center (which shares a campus with Miller Children’s & Women’s), I knew that we were in good hands,” says Shannon. “I was confident Carson would receive great treatment by the entire care team during his stay at Miller Children’s & Women’s.”
Dr. Williams evaluated Carson and his MRI, and she recommended that he undergo a biopsy to determine the diagnosis. After evaluating the tumor cells obtained from the biopsy, Drs. Lisa Shane and Jared Shows, pathologists at Miller Children’s & Women’s, were concerned that the tumor was a rare type of cancer. They collaborated with pathologists at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, and, together, they diagnosed Carson’s tumor as a Telangiectatic Osteosarcoma, an extremely rare variant of Osteosarcoma, which is a cancer of bone-forming cells.
Dr. Williams, and pediatric hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Maritza Ruiz, collaborated to create a treatment plan for Carson. He started with chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor. Carson was started on a well-studied treatment protocol, which included medications called Cisplatin and Methotrexate. Unfortunately, Carson’s tumor grew rapidly despite the chemotherapy treatment, and Dr. Williams and Dr. Ruiz recommended an emergency operation stop the cancer from growing and spreading.
“When it became evident that Carson’s tumor was not responding to chemotherapy, we recommended proceeding with an above-knee amputation to gain local control of the tumor,” says Dr. Williams. “With the size and location of Carson’s tumor, it was the only option. Additionally, Carson’s pain had become uncontrollable, so we scheduled the surgery immediately.”
A few weeks after the operation, Carson was managing another round of chemotherapy to prevent any further spread of cancer. He also was treated by the pain management team and given medication to increase the weight that he had lost from the chemotherapy. Carson’s mom stayed strong and managed to be by his side the entire time.
“I stopped working in late March to take care of Carson,” says Shannon. “But since then, lots of nurses, doctors and hospital staff have donated their PTO, so that I can take care of my son. I am forever grateful for the MemorialCare family for their support throughout our journey.”
Carson recently completed the last cycle of chemotherapy and has been in physical therapy twice a week, and walking with a prosthesis. In addition to physical therapy, he has been working out at home in hopes of getting a second chance at playing football at school. He regularly visits his clinical team at Miller Children’s & Women’s to check his blood counts, x-rays, kidney function and other health concerns to make sure the cancer does not return.
“I always tell Shannon what an inspiration Carson truly is,” says Dr. Ruiz. “Seeing him continue to work out despite his situation has made him recover at a stronger rate both physically and mentally.”