One day, 15-year-old Zachary came home from school complaining about hip pain. His mom, Susan, reacted like most moms of an active teen would, she put some heat on his hip. When the pain continued, she switched to a cold pack.
“Zach has a high tolerance for pain, so I knew something was wrong when it kept bothering him,” says Susan Meditz.
Unable to get an immediate appointment with his pediatrician, Susan took Zachary to urgent care. After a clear x-ray, doctors chalked it up to growing pains, but told Susan to bring him back if the pain continued.
To her relief the pain subsided – at least that’s what she thought. A month later, the pain returned. This time, Susan wasn’t going to leave it to chance. She pushed for an immediate appointment with Zachary’s pediatrician.
“Things moved quickly from there,” says Susan. “Our pediatrician ordered an x-ray and told us we would get a call about the results in a few days. The very next day, we got a call that Zach needed an MRI immediately. Just one day later, we got another call, they found something on Zach’s hip and were referring us to a specialist.”
Zachary was referred to Amy Williams, M.D., at the Pediatric Orthopedic Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. Dr. Williams is fellowship trained in both pediatric orthopedic surgery and musculoskeletal oncology (bone tumors). She is one of the only physicians in California with this dual training making her an expert in treating growing teens with benign and malignant (cancerous) bone tumors and soft tissue sarcomas.
Dr. Williams biopsied the tissue and sent it to be analyzed. At first glance, the biopsy looked normal, but when the pathologists took a detailed look, they found a sarcoma on Zachary’s proximal femur (thigh bone closest to the hip joint).
Zach was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, which is a type of tumor that forms in bone or soft tissue. Ewing’s sarcoma is a less common type of bone cancer, accounting for less than one percent of all childhood cancers.
“I was shocked, dumbfounded and confused,” says Susan. “But Zach stayed positive. He has always been such a sweet, outgoing kid and cancer didn’t change that.”
To treat patients with malignant (cancerous) bone tumors, the Pediatric Orthopedic Center care team collaborates seamlessly with the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center at Miller Children’s.
“The blending of the two teams allows us to offer the highest level of care to families with input from experts in a variety of pediatric specialties,” says Amy Williams, M.D., Pediatric Orthopedic Center, Miller Children’s. “Successful treatment requires this integrated team approach. Without it, patient outcomes could suffer.”
Zachary’s treatment journey began with 14 weeks of chemotherapy. After chemotherapy, Dr. Williams performed surgery to remove the tumor and salvage the limb.
“When possible, we try to avoid amputation,” says Dr. Williams. “In Zachary’s case, I was able to take out the tumor entirely and reconstruct the bone with metal and plastic parts, leaving it intact and functional.”
“Post-operatively Zach has had a great recovery,” says Dr. Williams. “He spent one day in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit before being transitioned to the hematology/oncology unit at Miller Children’s, where he stayed for about a week. With the assistance of a physical therapist, Zach was up and walking with a walker before he left the hospital.”
Following surgery, Zachary started another round of chemotherapy, this time for 22 weeks, as well as 31 days of radiation.
Now, Zachary is finishing up chemotherapy and is in rehabilitation focusing on getting full weight-bearing capabilities on his leg. As he looks toward his next year of high school, his positive outlook has yet to fade and with the help of his team at Miller Children’s, Zachary continues to stand tall.