Shot through the left femur while serving in Vietnam
In 1965, Kemp was shot through the left femur while serving in Vietnam. As a result of that wound, Kemp's leg bowed increasingly over the years, becoming crooked and, ultimately, two inches shorter than his right leg. The inner side of the veteran's left knee joint wore out, and Kemp struggled with a painful, disabling condition and a discouraging prognosis from many physicians.
"Mr. Kemp was an ideal candidate for the Ilizarov method because of the complex nature of his condition," says Dr. Gugenheim, who has treated more than 800 patients using the Ilizarov technique. "Not only was Mr. Kemp's bone short, it was angulated and translated: in effect, it bowed from his right leg making a 'D,' and the ends of the bones were out of alignment." Dr. Gugenheim, who practices and conducts limb restoration research at Houston's Texas Orthopedic Hospital, is one of the nation's foremost experts in the Ilizarov method.
To straighten, lengthen and align Kemp's femur, Dr. Gugenheim positioned a circular frame, or "fixator" around the patient's upper leg in the operating room. (Individual frames are constructed to exact specifications determined by the surgeon for each patient.) Small pins and wires were then transfixed through Kemp's bone and held under extremely high tension by rings around the leg. A small incision was made in the skin, and only the shell of the bone was cut. Over a period of time, the rings were moved apart slowly, or "distracted" by Kemp, who rotated a dial on his frame less than one millimeter each day. Because the shell of the bone was cut, it gradually moved apart and lengthened the femur through the distraction process.
"When my wife and I came to see Dr. Gugenheim, I couldn't walk across the parking lot to church. My golf game went from walking 18 holes, to 9 holes, to riding in a cart, to no game at all," recalls Gary Kemp who wore a shoe lift and suffered from severe back, hip and knee pain prior to this Ilizarov procedure. "A few months ago, I was playing up to 36 holes a day in Banff--and that was with my frame on," says Kemp, who wore the fixator for approximately five months to allow for full correction and lengthening of his deformed leg.
According to Dr. Gugenheim, patients are walking with 24 hours of surgery, begin physical therapy, and are encouraged to return to work and resume their daily routine.
"Coming out of surgery, I already had a great deal of leg extension," Kemp recalls. "I could straighten my leg more at fifty-six than I could when I was twenty-six, just hours after my procedure." Today, Kemp's bone is aligned correctly, he is free of pain, and his full height is restored.
As in Kemp's case, many patients who come to see Dr. Gugenheim have suffered from a painful condition for years or have been through multiple surgeries with unsatisfactory results. "In almost all cases," Dr. Gugenheim says, "these patients can be healed fully by an Ilizarov surgeon using this technique." He emphasizes that patients participate in the treatment process through rehabilitative therapy, rotating the dial on their frame as directed, and staying active to promote new bone growth.
"Patients are very enthusiastic once they realize we can do something to help them," says Dr. Gugenheim.