Life Beyond Height (includes photo essay)

Nathan Leung, born with hydrocephalus and achondroplasia, underwent Bilateral Osteoplasty to
lengthen the humerus bone in both arms on September 12th.

Nathan is only 13 years old and has also undergone limb lengthening surgery on both of his legs.
The scars resulted from the external fixators that surgeons connected to his bones using rods,
screws, and wires.

His external fixed devices stretched the ligaments, muscles, and bones in both of his arms.

Nathan also has a condition that can result in “hydrocephalus,” a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid
in the ventricles (cavities) deep within the brain.

Nathan must perform four gradual lengthening procedures on his fixators daily for 6-9 months.
Each screw turn separates the bone by 0.25 mm, adding to about 1 mm of daily lengthening.

Dry blood emerges from Nathan’s arms, where the fixator is inserted. Though it might seem
painful to others, Nathan is a warrior and can fight off the pain.

Nathan’s treatment takes place at St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach. The checkup is to
assess his recovery progress and receive the all-clear to return home to Atlanta.

Brandon is Nathan’s older brother. They have an unbreakable bond. Brandon accompanies
Nathan to most of his medical appointments.

At 6:40 am, the family arrived at the Paley Institute. Because of Nathan’s distal femur fracture in
his left leg, he couldn’t walk, so they wheeled him to his doctor’s appointment.

Nathan waits for his family’s assistance to exit the car.

Nathan and his family use the ADA parking accommodations, which enable them to be closer to the hospital doors. This assistance eases access to public spaces for Nathan and individuals facing similar challenges, particularly when longer distances pose difficulties for them.

Entering the hospital, Nathan, and his family hope for good news on his healing and an all-clear to return home to Atlanta.

The Paley Institute is a renowned global center specializing in treating complex orthopedic conditions, including dwarfism. As they walk through the institute, photos of highly specialized doctors are in its hallways.

The doctor needs X-rays to capture Nathan’s arm fixators and assess the progression of his bones.

While Nathan lies on the X-ray table, the doctor can monitor the correct placement of the devices, assess bone progress, and identify any potential complications.  

The X-ray technicians carefully position Nathan’s arms to capture his fixators. The new X-rays will show how the bone is regenerating. 

Nathan’s mom gazes intensely at the X-ray picture, captivated by her son’s progress of the bones forming back together, and ensuring nothing is wrong with his healing process.

As a 13-year-old, you may not know everything about this complex surgery, but that wasn’t the case for Nathan. With this surgery, he said he “just wanted to be normal.” 

The X–ray image displays Nathan’s arm with his fixator and his leg. The fixators, connected by wires and pins, act as scaffolding, supporting separated bones. They mechanically lengthen the limb by pulling the bone segments apart.

Dr. David Feldman, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, subspecializing in children with scoliosis and severe limb and hip deformities, conducted Nathan’s surgery.

Under Dr. Feldman’s guidance and with Brandon’s assistance, Nathan turns the fixators, creating separation at the fracture site and promoting the gradual growth of new bone.

Dr. Feldman informs Nathan and his family about the two phases of the lengthening process: distraction and consolidation. Nathan is in the distraction phase, where the bone is gradually separated. 

Dr. Feldman and his team discussed the second phase, consolidation, with Nathan’s family. They explain that his bones will be weak due to the hardening and calcification process. This is known as the consolidation phase.  

It’s all smiles at the Paley Institute as Nathan and his family rejoice upon learning they can return home to Atlanta.

Nathan and his family happily laugh, confident in his healing progress and the effective working of the fixators in the initial phase (distraction). Ready to return home, they are filled with joy.

To see a mini-documentary on this topic click here.

To listen to a podcast on this topic click here.

Sheetal Bahadursingh is a student at Florida International University, majoring in Digita Interactive Media. She was raised in South Florida and was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. She loves to travel and take pictures and aspires to work as a travel blogger in the future.

Laura Palfrey is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in digital communication and media. After graduation, Laura hopes to pursue a television career as an NBC producer. She also enjoys photography, traveling, and watching movies.

Jasmine Arocha is a student at Florida International University majoring in Digital TV and Multimedia Production. She was born and raised in Miami and has a creative eye for producing and editing videos. In the future, she hopes to work behind the scenes for the news.