Eli Clarkson is the kind of 8-year-old that feels the need to hurdle over a sofa to go from the living room to the kitchen. An hour playing outside usually comes with a new collection of grass stains, scrapes and bruises.
So when a limp and hip pain in his right leg slowed him down in the summer of 2011, his parents, Eric and Lynn, thought it was probably just a minor injury from being such an active kid.
“He was developing a really bad limp, and he was getting ready to play his first season of football in the fall,” Eric said. “He said his groin was hurting, and I just thought he pulled his groin.”
An X-ray at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Scottish Rite hospital revealed that Eli had Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, a condition that affects the top of the thigh bone. In a child with Perthes, the top of the thigh bone, or femoral head, loses blood supply and collapses.
Eric and Lynn were initially told that recovery in some cases of Perthes could take between three and five years and result in some long-term disabilities. The family’s pediatrician recommended they take Eli, 7 at the time, to see Tim Schrader, M.D., the Medical Director of the Children’s Hip Program.
“Dr. Schrader is a rockstar,” Eric said. “He told us he was doing a different procedure (for Perthes patients).”
Treating His Condition
One treatment for Perthes is core decompression, a minimally invasive procedure in which a hole is drilled into the femoral head to promote blood flow. Dr. Schrader uses core decompression but includes an additional procedure called bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC). During this procedure, a sample of bone marrow is taken out the hip bone and placed into the femoral head. This extra step can help the recovery process by increasing blood flow and helping the bone grow stronger.
Eli had the procedure Aug. 25, 2011. He had to stay in a cast and wheelchair for about six weeks. He wore a brace for another four months.
“We had a reserved optimism,” Eric said. “We didn’t really have anything to gauge it against. We listened to and believed in Dr. Schrader. We had hope.”
Recovery and Physical Therapy
Eli attended physical therapy, twice a week for six months at Children’s at Meridian Mark. He quickly developed a bond with his physical therapist and worked hard to build strength and flexibility in his hip.
The Clarkson family had regular follow-up appointments with Dr. Schrader, during which they would see before and after X-rays of their son’s hip. For the most part, they could never tell a difference.
But when they had their most recent appointment, six months since their previous one, they saw a big difference.
“There was this beautiful, white ball that is his femoral head,” Eric said. “My wife and I just looked at each other and said, ‘There it is. That is what has been missing.’”
Eli has returned to two of his favorite sports—swimming and baseball—and will play football in the fall.
“He had the most phenomenal attitude through the whole thing,” Eric said. “I never thought a 7-year-old boy could be my hero.”