Eiffel Tower could be secret to avoiding amputations

Posted at 11:57 AM, Mar 13, 2017

DENVER, Colorado — Can you imagine facing an amputation and finding out there's a way to save your arm or leg? It happened to one woman now living a life she didn't expect after using what one doctor is calling “The Cage.”

For Rachel Owens, an ex-ray is a small reminder that she still has her leg. About two years ago, doctors were considering amputating part of if after she fell and shattered her ankle.

“I just thought I would like to climb out my window and just get some fresh air on a little overhang over our garage,” Owens remembers. “And then I just fell off.”

Owens found Dr. David Hahn after four surgeries with another surgeon didn't help and her leg got infected. He first tried a traditional fix using a metal brace to try to help the bone heal, but instead Owens said, it hurt.

“You have all these open wounds,” Owens said. “And I had to clean them twice a day and then I had to walk on it. So every time you walk on it those pins are like pushing in. Had to wear it for six months it was just miserable.”

On top of that, Owens’ bones were crumbling.

“I think she was headed for an amputation,” said Dr. David B. Hahn, orthopedic surgeon at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center.

But thinking of her family, Owens said, “Find another solution.”

Hahn started looking at using titanium trusses to fill in the bone. It has been used before in spinal surgery but it had never been done in someone's leg.

“It's like you know what do we have to lose here?” Hahn said. “So if it doesn't work then she’s still looking at an amputation. If it does work then we are way ahead.”

Here's how Hahn explains the technology he named, “The Cage.”

“We will have a cage that fits perfectly in between here and then we put bone graft at each end,” Hahn said. “And we will actually put a rod that goes to the bottom of the heel bone up to the tibia and you can see where that wire goes to the cage.”

It's the same engineering principle as the truss design used in the Eiffel Tower, just on a much smaller scale. Hahn put a cage in Owen’s leg. Not only saving it, but her dream of being an active mother and wife.

“I do it all,” Rachel said. “I take care of the house, to take care of the kids. At the end of the day I’m tired I’m sore but it's such a total 180 from where it was a year ago. So it's definitely given me a new lease on life.”

Pushing past what's possible. To create a life she never imagined would be.

Owen’s says there is still some pain but it's worth it to have her leg. Dr. Hahn hopes to begin using the cage on more patients going forward improving their experience as technology improves.