When Melina, at age 10, felt a shooting pain in her leg and suddenly couldn’t put weight on it, her family assumed it would mean physical therapy at worst. They never imagined it would mean emergency surgery so she could play sports, dance, or possibly just walk normally again.

They started at the pediatrician’s office. “The physician moved my leg a certain way, and I jumped off the table because it hurt so badly,” says Melina. Then they went for X-rays.

Minutes after that, they got the call.

“If she didn’t have surgery within 10 hours, it could cut off circulation to the artery that runs up the leg,” says mom Gisela. That circulation was vital for the health of Melina’s hip. They had to go to Connecticut Children's – immediately- for a surgery offered only there.

Most health systems can’t do the procedure Melina needed. Luckily, it’s one of Connecticut Children's specialties.

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“Do what you have to do”

Melina had a condition called slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE), where the hip bone slips off the growth plate at the top of the leg. When it comes on rapidly, as in Melina’s case, it needs special treatment. Otherwise, there’s nearly a 50% chance that the tissue in the ball of the hip will die, because its blood supply is interrupted. That’s devastating to a young patient because it could affect their mobility for life.

At many health systems, the standard procedure is to simply pin the hip back in place. For many patients, it’s not the best solution. The threat of tissue death is still high, and the patient may never fully regain their ability to run, jump or be active in the ways they were before their injury.

Connecticut Children's is the only health system in Connecticut that offers a more advanced approach. Our nationally ranked Division of Pediatric Orthopedics specializes in hip preservation in young patients, including surgical hip dislocation and osteotomy surgeries for Melina’s condition.

“The technique allows us to dislocate the hip joint safely, realign the ball of the hip on the femur and then put the hip back in the socket,” says Mark C. Lee, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and division head. “It gives patients like Melina the best chance of avoiding rapid arthritis from the blood flow issues and returning to normal activity.”

The procedure is technically challenging, which is why it isn’t offered everywhere. Among other things, the surgical team needs to make a special cut in the bone, and carefully replace the ball of the hip joint without disturbing all the tiny blood vessels that go to it.

And it has to take place quickly.

When Melina and her family arrived at Connecticut Children's, it was already evening. Dr. Lee and fellow orthopedic surgeon Philip W. Mack, MD, had rushed in from home. As the team prepared Melina for the three-hour surgery, Dr. Lee and Dr. Mack pulled Gisela and husband William aside. Nine out of 10 times, when Melina’s condition happens in one hip, it will happen in the other. They recommended doing the procedure on both hips at once. Gisela felt a wave of heat rush over her. William asked if she needed a glass of water. “I looked at the doctors and said, Do what you have to do,” she remembers. “I want my kid to walk.”

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I looked at the doctors and said, 'Do what you have to do. I want my kid to walk.'

Melina's Mom

“I never thought she’d be able to play sports again”

It was a long road to recovery after Melina’s surgery. She spent three months in a wheelchair, and three months using crutches and a walker. She missed a month of school. At home, her family moved her bedroom downstairs, and to keep her spirits up, organized a rotating schedule of family and friends to play board games.

Meanwhile, she worked hard with Connecticut Children's Division of Physical Therapy. Her recovery plan began in the hospital the morning after surgery, and continued for nine months close to home, at our Glastonbury specialty care center. She was diligent about following the program, and so inspired by her physical therapist, Tracy, that she plans to become one herself.

“My doctors and physical therapists helped me focus on the future,” she says, “and understand what I would be able to do.”

Today, that future has arrived – and Melina, at age 15, is able to do everything. She’s completed her care at Connecticut Children's, and is now every bit as active as she was before her injury. She discovered volleyball a few years ago, and plays for her high school team plus three times a week for a competitive club team.

“Participation in competitive volleyball, at her level, is a testament to her individual drive and resilience,” says Dr. Lee. “She’s a great role model.”

It’s a comeback story that would be beyond imagination – if not for Melina’s dedication, and Connecticut Children's expertise.

Melina playing volleyball

“I never thought she’d be able to play competitive sports again. Now, I see her on the volleyball court, diving for balls. She’s not afraid,” says Gisela. “I’m so thankful for Connecticut Children's.”