Toddler Max Ford-Richards is defying the odds to overcome bone cancer
Originally published Herald Sun, Friday 14 April
Words: Brigid O’Connell
It sounds an unthinkable concept at first. Surgeons propose taking your baby boy’s calf and foot and reattaching it backward to give him the best chance of an active life.
But 19-month-old Maxi Ford-Richards, who has undergone both radical orthopedic surgery and cancer treatment, is now facing having the same chance to run, jump and play as his peers, thanks to revolutionary surgery at The Royal Children’s Hospital.
It was his grandmother who first noticed the then 15-month old’s foot was unusually turned out. Scans revealed a ping-pong ball sized tumour, an osteosarcoma, just above his knee. Julie Ford and Greg Richards packed Maxi and brother Nate, 5, on a plane from Hobart to Melbourne two days later on November 20. “We thought we’d be here for a week. We packed four sets of clothing,” Ms Ford said. “When we arrived in November, they told us we’d be here until August next year.” The RCH’s osteosarcoma protocol involves three chemotherapy drugs over seven months, either side of surgery to remove the tumour.
Maxi is just one of five children around the world under the age of two to have been diagnosed with this rare cancer. It affects the cells that grow bone tissue, and is most common in adolescent boys during their growth spurt. RCH orthopedic surgeon Associate Professor Leo Donnan met the family to explain the benefits of a type of surgery called rotationplasty as an alternative to complete amputation. After he removed the tumour, he detailed how he could use the remaining limb below, and reattach in the rotated position to give Maxi a functioning knee joint. “If I take your knee away and turn your ankle the other way, I can turn it into a knee,” Prof Donnan said. “The foot becomes the below-knee part, and we fit a prosthesis onto his foot. Compared with an above-knee amputation, function is 200 per cent better because you’ve got a joint.”
Maxi is the youngest child to have rotationplasty surgery at the RCH, and the night he came out of theatre seven weeks ago, his toes moved. “There were so many tears that it had actually worked, because it looked so strange,” Ms Ford said. In two weeks Maxi will be fitted with a hip spica, a plaster cast from his waist to his knees, until he completes his final 13 weeks of chemo. Once the wounds are healed, he will return to the RCH to have his prosthetic leg fitted. “We really thought this would be a sad time after surgery,” Ms Ford said. “But because Maxi isn’t crying, we’re not. “I just hope he has a really good outlook on it all when he’s older.”