Bone Growth Boy


Story Details

Six-year-old Corey Ricci is like most other kids: loves his footy, loves his mates and his identical twin brother, with whom he has one big difference. One of Corey's legs is shorter than the other.

His dad Aldo says: "Now that he's getting a little bit older, he can't get around as well as the kids that he goes to school with."

"My friend Blake is too fast for me (but) when I get angry, I get faster," says Corey.

It happened as the result of an infection, days after Corey and his twin brother Dylan were born.

"We did know he was sick, but just as far as the long-term consequences and what the outcome was going to be, we really had no idea," says Corey's mum Kylie.

Corey's parents were faced with the difficult situation of having their newborn twin sons in separate hospitals.

"It was pretty hard," says Kylie. "Pretty heart-wrenching, but then Ashford moved Dylan up to Flinders so we could all be at the same place at the same time."

As time went by, and the twins grew, the difference between them grew as well.

"When he was small, through kindy and day care, quite often he'd just sit in the corner of the sandpit by himself, because he couldn't climb trees or do things," says Aldo.

But right from the start, the family had the good fortune to meet Dr Bruce Foster, an orthopaedic surgeon and founder of the Bone Growth Foundation.

He's monitored Corey's condition all his life and just recently made the disturbing discovery that his leg had stopped growing altogether.

"The end of the thigh-bone, the growth tissue was damaged with an infection," says Dr Foster.

"Overall, the difference in height between the two legs is about nine centimetres. And that's as a result of the fact that this growth tissue, the growth plate, has been destroyed."

Corey has managed until now with a built up sole on one shoe but without an operation, he faces the prospect of needing an amputation and prosthetic leg.

His mum Kylie says Corey can do just about anything, but he does have his limits.
"I mean, obviously there are some things. Our eldest son, Jake, would love to go to the Grampians to go bushwalking. Now that's just out of the question; he can't keep up."

His dad Aldo says: "He came home from school a couple of months ago and he said to me (and it's the first time he's ever said it) he said 'why can't my leg be normal?' and I said to him 'we'll have to go back and see Dr Bruce about that one'."

Aldo and Kylie decided it was time for Corey to have an operation. The only problem is, the procedure usually means having an external frame on the leg that looks more like scaffolding than a medical aid.

"It was developed by the Russian inventor of the system in the 1950s," says Dr Bruce Foster.
"It's become a very positive way of making limbs longer, but obviously, the system is painful."

The external frame also carries a greater risk of infection, can't be hidden under clothes and is a nightmare for patients when trying to get to sleep.

But Doctor Foster was the first in the southern hemisphere to pioneer a new procedure, and is now working on a world-wide clinical trial.

"What we'd like to try and do is replace the external scaffolding system with an internal system," he says. "It'll be the first time, in fact, that we'll have done this on such a young child."

That involves a special gadget made especially for Corey called a FitBone. It uses a transmitter placed inside his leg, and an antenna, and works a bit like the remote control on a garage door. Only instead of door opening, Corey's broken bone gets stretched and grows longer.

The best part is, Corey would get to operate it himself.

But Corey is so young, there's no way of knowing if his tiny bones can handle the new system, until he's on the operating table.

"I think my biggest worry is that they're going to get halfway through and encounter a problem and have to resort to putting that external frame on," says Kylie. "I think that will open a whole new can of worms."

Corey, though, is pretty relaxed about the operation.

The day of the operation has arrived.

Dr Foster has a final look at Corey's leg. Kylie and Aldo's stress levels are sky-high, while Corey's immersed in his computer game until the time comes to say goodbye.

"It went very, very well," says Dr Foster.

"Lots of pacing," says Kylie on how she coped while Corey was in surgery. "Lots of coffee, but when the doctor came out and told me that everything went well, it was a huge relief."

With his internal bone-growth system now in place, courageous Corey faces another four months of having his bone stretched, and several more operations in the future.

For now, though, he's recovering in leaps and bounds.

For more information about the Bone Growth Foundation, contact 81618055 or