Dr. Doug Letson performs pioneering limb-saving surgery

USF Health-Moffitt orthopaedic surgeon Dr. G. Douglas Letson performed a pioneering surgery last week to save a young girl’s arm.

Dr. Letson removed the girl’s humerus and replaced it with an expandable prosthesis during the 8-hour procedure at Shriners Hospital for Children on the USF Tampa campus. He has replaced lower arm bones with prosthetic implants in the past, but this was the first time a U.S. surgeon has replaced the entire upper arm bone in a child with an artificial limb designed to stretch and grow along with the rest of the body.

Dr. Douglas Letson

Dr. Letson is professor and director of the orthopaedic surgery residency at USF Health and head of the Moffitt Cancer Center Sarcoma Program. He was sought out by the parents of Josalyn Kaldenberg, 8, of Woodward Iowa, who was days away from having her right arm amputated because of a rare malignant tumor (osteosarcoma).

USF orthopaedic surgery chief resident Dr. Eric Henderson assisted Dr. Letson with the limb-saving surgery, which required reconstruction of an artificial elbow and partial shoulder joint as well.

“The prosthesis is made out of a variety of different metals, between titanium and cobalt chrome. What it is, it’s a telescoping prosthesis or metal, so that there’s a tube in a tube,” Dr. Letson said at a press conference at Shriners Hospital on USF’s Tampa campus.

“As we want to lengthen the child’s arm, there’s gears and so we actually either use a screwdriver or a magnet to turn the gears so as we turn the gears, the two telescoping pieces expand upon each other.”

Josalyn’s prognosis is excellent, and she is expected to regain most of the strength in her arm, Dr. Letson said at the press conference. She will return home to Iowa for several months of additional chemotherapy and extensive physical therapy.

For more on the surgery, visit WUSF 89.7 News.