A Simple - Wonderful - Twist of Fate

ABC News, 20/20—March 24, 2006

In Sierra Leone, where children were kidnapped, stoked with drugs, and placed on the front lines of battle to draw enemy fire, Lansana was lucky. As a young boy of 5 or 6, after chasing a soccer ball into the bush, he was bitten by a snake.

An uncle abandoned Lansana at a hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone. Lansana's father was missing. His mother was dead.

New York City physician Ian Zlotolow found Lansana while on a trip to Sierra Leone with the International Society of Maxillofacial Rehabilitation.

Lansana walked with crutches as the infection from the snake bite worsened. "He had osteomyelitis, and it spread up his [right] leg," Zlotolow said. Osteomyelitis causes bone tissue to die.

Returning with Lansana to New York, Zlotolow sought treatment for the boy's leg, adamant that it be saved from amputation if possible. On the recommendation of other doctors, he took Lansana to S. Robert Rozbruch, MD, director of the Institute for Limb Lengthening and Reconstruction and co-chief of the Limb Lengthening Service at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery.

"His leg was probably about six inches short," Rozbruch said. "And it was about 45 degrees angled inward. And then the X-ray showed that he was missing the bottom half of his tibia, or leg bone, that is also the top part of the ankle. So, he had lost his ankle in the process as well."

"We gradually pulled that piece of bone downward, towards the ankle, to fill in the defect," Rozbruch said. "And in that way, we [were able to] grow him new bone and essentially reconstruct his ankle, and attach what was left of his leg to his foot."

In stages, the bone was lengthened by nearly eight inches. Though his right leg is still shorter than the left, Lansana is able to walk without crutches and play soccer and basketball.

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