Teacher walks with 3-D miracle

11:36 Dec 28 2015 Duke University, Union Drive, Crest Street, Durham, Durham County, North Carolina, 27710, United States of America

Teacher walks with 3-D miracle Teacher walks with 3-D miracle Teacher walks with 3-D miracle
Cluster Springs Elementary special education teacher Ruth Smith-Leigh almost lost her leg as a result of a head-on collision in February 2014, but thanks to a 3-D printed leg implant and doctors’ expertise at Duke University Medical Center, she was able to keep it.

She became the first in the Southeast to receive a 3-D printed bone implant at Duke in order to salvage a limb.

It’s been a little over a year since she returned to work and her daily routine, and she calls receiving the procedure the “best experience I could have had.”

With a cheery disposition, she says, “You never know how God can make your mess into a message. That’s how I feel about this whole ordeal. What could have been a mess is now my message to everyone. No matter what it looks like, there is a message, and it’s my responsibility to give that positive message.”

The “mess” began with her accident, which she says was very frightening.

She was riding with her two young sons and God-son in the car. After her car was hit, it hit an embankment and flipped several times.

“Trying to figure out where everyone was, was really, really scary, and I thank God they were all in their seatbelts. I could hear the two oldest boys screaming, but I couldn’t hear my youngest son,” said Smith-Leigh. The youngest son ended up being outside of the car.

“It was a miracle that he was out because the car landed on the side that he actually was on,” she added.

Once she knew the children were safe, she noticed she couldn’t move.

“I could see my leg was slanted. It was not in a regular position,” said Smith-Leigh.

Responders were able to assist her out of the car through the windshield, and she was rushed to Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital. There she underwent several tests before they offered a list of hospitals to send her to, and she chose Duke because of its closeness.

“I never knew or realized the severity of it. I just thought it was a break, a bad break, but a break,” she added.

The severity of the situation began to unfold as soon as she arrived. She was immediately informed she would need to go into surgery. Doctors originally placed an external fixator to hold her bone in place, which remained for five months.

A scary option was then unfolded as a doctor told her that her leg “needed to be amputated.”

“It was extremely frightening to think that after all that had happened that I was not going to have my leg anymore,” said Smith-Leigh.

“I was crying and crying, and I didn’t know what I was going to do at that point.”

Moments after the doctor left her room, the mother of two met an environmental specialist named Barbara who comforted her.

“She said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to walk,’” said Smith-Leigh, who added, “I believed in God, and I knew I was going to be alright, and I was going to be alright with or without a leg, but she was very, very encouraging and offered me a lot of support in a time when I needed a lot of support.”

The teacher and mother then visited one of Duke Medical Center’s section heads of orthopaedic surgery who recommended she speak with Foot and Ankle Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Samuel Adams Jr.

“When I met Dr. Adams, he offered many different choices on my first meeting, and amputation was not the first. On our second meeting, he told me he had something that he thought I would be really interested in, and that I was an excellent candidate for, and that was the 3-D (bone implant).

Using CT scans, Smith-Leigh’s anatomy was recreated with an implant made of titanium to fit the bone. She was told that her body’s bone would grow around and through the bone, and it has.

For several months, she stayed at Duke Medical Center receiving various casts while being monitored, and she had no negative reactions to the surgery.

Throughout it all, many friends and family members stayed by her side, and she was able to have her cast removed in October of 2014.

She never had to receive therapy, but she does walk with a limp.

“It’s an awesome experience. I walk with a little bit of a limp that I can take. My ankle had to be fused, which keeps it from being flexible, but other than that and not being able to wear high heel shoes, it’s excellent,” said Smith-Leigh.

She added, “I would like to give Dr. Adams and his team a huge thank you. I can never say it enough, and I always think thank you is never big enough. It’s never a big enough word for all that he has done and for going beyond. I don’t know if I would have trusted myself to offer it to someone as quick as he did. It was really new. He always said he had faith in me because I had such an upbeat attitude. I tried to never get down about it.

“A huge thank you to my family and my loving husband, Lamont, and my friends who are beyond friends for their support through the entire ordeal. The biggest thank you goes out to everyone who gave support.”

The first week of November marked a year from when she was able to return to work, and she still remembers the day she was able to return to her Cluster Springs classroom where she was welcomed back with cheers and smiles from her students.

With her implant, she has been able to attend all of her son’s soccer games, and she feels no extra pain.

“People ask, do you feel any pain? I don’t, nothing out of the ordinary. People ask, do you know when it’s going to rain? No, I don’t. I know it was a blessing from God, and I think God for putting Dr. Adams at the right place at the right time. It was for me,” said Smith-Leigh, who hopes her story will help others.
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