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Kids Day: Magnets help third-grader's leg grow longer, bit by bit

Thousands of volunteers will take to the streets the morning of April 30 to sell a special Kids Day edition of The Buffalo News to benefit John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, Cradle Beach and the children of Western New York. Presented in conjunction with Tops Markets, Kids Day is now in its 37th year and has raised more than $4.8 million for programs that help youngsters. Your donations help children like the one featured in this story.

 

Brielle Mott's leg is getting longer all the time, 1 millimeter a day.

It is painstaking, but not painful, and the third-grader at Pfc. W.J. Grabiarz School of Excellence, School No. 79, is patient as she undergoes treatment.

Brielle, 9, was diagnosed with sickle cell disease when she was an infant. She suffered a crisis when she was about 6 months old, when she went into septic shock, requiring the tip of the middle finger on her right hand to be amputated.

She was in the intensive care unit at the old Women & Children's Hospital for two months at the time. And in addition to damaging her finger, the infection got into her bone, and destroyed the growth plate in her right leg. As she grows, one leg is longer than the other.

But now her right leg is getting longer, thanks to a nail, a motor and a magnet.

Dr. Robert D. Galpin, an orthopedic surgeon at John R. Oishei Children's Hospital, said the difference in the length of her legs about a year ago was 6 to 7 centimeters, or about 2.5 inches. That's when she had the first procedure to lengthen her tibia, and she is undergoing another session this spring.

Galpin surgically breaks the bone, and inserts a special nail inside each end of the bone that is driven by an external magnet. Three times each day, Brielle's father, Andre, uses the magnet to start the motor, which lengthens her leg by 1 millimeter each day as her leg heals from the break.

"I feel it a little bit, it really doesn't feel like anything," Brielle said, likening it to a small pinch.

"The lengthening process is not painful," Galpin said. The nail allows the leg to lengthen 5 centimeters over 50 days, the same amount it was lengthened a year ago.

"It's another step along the way," Galpin said. "She's doing beautifully."

Still, the procedure requires close monitoring, and nearly weekly trips to the clinic, he said.

Bone lengthening has been taking place for 30 years, he said, but it used to be done with an external frame around the leg. The nail inside the bone has fewer problems, he said.

"This is a huge advance in our ability to lengthen bones," Galpin said.

Once the lengthening stage is over, Brielle will have to avoid putting weight on that leg during the consolidation phase because it is not strong enough to walk on, Galpin said.

But he said, "things are going very well."

Meanwhile, Brielle, who likes English language arts and math, is staying home from school, and looking forward to the day she will be back in class.

The complications from sickle cell disease go beyond her bones, and Brielle has been a regular on the hematology floor.

"There have been basically the same nurses her whole life," said her father, Andre Mott. "Children's Hospital is like a big family."

Consistency has been good for the family, particularly since Mott's wife died six years ago from cancer at age 31.

"We were together for 13 years, no breakup. We had two beautiful kids together," he said.

He is self-employed as a contractor, doing drywall, floors, painting and remodeling houses because it gives him more flexibility to take Brielle to doctor's appointments.

He calls Brielle a "little peanut."

"She looks like my wife, but she has more of my personality," he said.

Brielle has had good months and bad months, good years and bad years, her father said. At one time she was in the hospital at least once a month, for a minimum of two or three days each time.

"Ultimately, there is no cure for her sickle cell," Mott said.

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