By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
At age 6, Bryson Quinn of Gilbert was already showing his agility on the field as a member of a youth club baseball team.
“He was one of the fastest kids on the team,” father Ricky Quinn said. “But he started getting slower and slower.”
Sara Quinn said she first noticed something was wrong with her son last year in August when he started limping.
“We thought he pulled a muscle,” she said, given that Bryson doesn’t like to sit still and often is riding his dirt bike or skateboard at home and playing tetherball, soccer and kickball at school recess.
Ricky Quinn said he suspected it was growing pains when Bryson started complaining about throbbing behind his right knee.
By the end of October, Bryson was in a wheelchair.
He was diagnosed with Legg–Calvé–Perthes disease, a childhood hip disorder that disrupts blood flow to the head of the femur, causing the bone to die off. Doctors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital said 95 percent of Bryson’s femoral bone was affected.
“It’s fairly rare,” said Dr. Judson Karlen, who treated Bryson. “I think the incident is somewhere around 5 and 10,000 so it’s pretty rare.”
The orthopedic surgeon said he sees about 30 to 40 of these cases a year at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“It seems to happen to boys more often than girls, 4-1, and kind of hits in the age range of 4 and 8,” Karlen said. “One of the risk factors we see is it’s in very active boys.”
The exact underlying cause of the interrupted blood flow is not fully understood, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.
Risk factors that may play a role in developing the disease include low-birth weight, delayed skeletal maturity, trauma and exposure to tobacco smoke, the nonprofit group said.
No one else in the Quinns’ extended family has the disease. The household is smoke-free and, apart from falling off his bike, Bryson never had injuries to that part of his body.
Bryson was put in a wheelchair before his surgery because the strength and size of his right hip was that of a 2-year-old’s, and doctors didn’t want it breaking down more, said the father, who is a firefighter.
The Quinns took Bryson for a second opinion to specialists in San Diego before deciding to go with Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s more aggressive treatment.
There is no cure for the disease, so Karlen opted for surgery to contain Bryson’s femoral head in the socket.
The hour-long procedure he used is called Salter pelvic osteotomy, where he made a cut through Bryson’s hip and realigned the pelvic bone so that the socket can cover the ball of the hip joint better and help the bone grow back into a more rounded shape.
Because of his age, his bones are still growing, making this option the best treatment, according to the doctor.
Four months later, Bryson went back for a second surgery to remove the two metal pins in his hip.
After the hospital sanitized the pins, they were given to Bryson for a souvenir that he is quite proud of showing off, his parents said.
One year and 10 days after his diagnosis, Bryson, now 7, was given the all-clear to resume his activities – except for jumping – said his mom, who had spent countless nights researching and reaching out to doctors and parents around the world for more information because the disease was so rare.
Now that she has become well-versed with the disease and treatment options she is able to help other parents, she said.
A faint pink scar is visible on Bryson’s right hip, and he still limps a bit, his dad said.
“His right leg is short ¼ inch,” Ricky Quinn said. “Under the sole of his shoe is a lift.”
He said it will take about a year and a half for Bryson’s muscle to equal out.
“He is doing really well in terms of activity,” Karlan said.
The family, including his younger brother Colton, is so thankful for the care Bryson received from Phoenix Children’s Hospital that they plan to participate in its upcoming 5K fundraiser.
Throughout his ordeal, Bryson continued going to his first-grade class at Ryan Elementary School in Chandler, where his mom is a fourth-grade teacher.
He became popular in his wheelchair with classmates jockeying for the chance to push him around, Ricky Quinn said. Bryson was out of his wheelchair by February.
“He’s very smart,” Ricky Quinn said of his son. “It has helped get him through this and not let it mentally affect him.”
Bryson said the four months spent in a wheelchair did make him feel sad because he couldn’t play soccer and watched his team play baseball.
Also, there were occasional temper tantrums, which he didn’t exhibit before, because he had no way to burn his energy, his mom said.
But the boy found a good support system in his family and teammates – and Isaac Hess, the first minor league pitcher to have a total hip replacement.
The couple also developed an upbeat playlist for Bryson to listen to during his numerous trips to see doctors.
The song “The Champion,” by country singer Carrie Underwood and rapper Ludacris, became Bryson’s anthem, his dad said.
“Keeping him positive was key for us,” he added.
Now that he is on the road to recovery, Bryson’s word of advice for other children with the same disease is: “It may be tough for a little while but you stick through it.”
Added Ricky Quinn: “He’s a very tough kid. We as a family have become stronger, and whatever challenge he will have in life, he will get through it.”