Story by: Joe Hall on August 3, 2018
Jerren Harrison is always smiling. But that grin is a little bigger now. The 20-year-old, who has undergone three dozen surgeries to help him grow properly, has completed his final leg-lengthening surgery.
“It’s a great feeling because I know this is the end,” Jerren said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 2 years old.”
At just 6 weeks old, doctors at Norton Children’s Hospital diagnosed Jerren with bacterial meningitis. Fortunately, the doctors were able to treat the meningitis, but the infection left a catastrophic effect. It destroyed the growth plates in his thigh and shin bones.
Left untreated, Jerren’s body would have continued to grow as normal, but his legs would have remained the size of an infant’s.
Jerren’s family turned to Laura Jacks, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, for help.
“We’d heard she was the best,” said Shearice Harrison, Jerren’s mom. “And she’s been a savior ever since.”
Dr. Jacks created a plan. She would perform a series of intense leg-lengthening surgeries on young Jerren. Dr. Jacks cautioned that this would be far from a one-and-done ordeal. It would require many operations to ensure Jerren’s leg growth kept up with the rest of his body.
“I had seen patients with similar issues but not to the extreme of Jerren’s,” Dr. Jacks said. “We knew early on that it would be a long, difficult and painful road, but we were going to take that journey together.”
Tune in for the Norton Children’s Hospital Radiothon on Nov. 15 and 16, broadcasting live on Alpha Media stations 99.7 DJX, B96.5, Magic 101.3, 102.3 Jack FM and ALT 105.1. Stop by Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital in St. Matthews — we’ll be in the lobby!
For the past two decades, Jerren became at regular at Norton Children’s Hospital. Dr. Jacks performed multiple surgeries a year. She fitted his leg bones with special growth rods on the outside of his body. The growth rods slowly moved his leg bones apart at a cut, allowing new bone to grow.
A special wrench moved the rods. Turned too far and there could be complications. Not turned enough and his bones wouldn’t grow. It was up to his mother to precisely turn the cranks each day.
“There are many nights I did homework in bed,” Jerren said. “My legs always had to adjust to the rest of my body.”
But among the challenges have been lots of highlights. Jerren was able play sports, including track and field at New Albany High School in Indiana. He also served as the manager for the school’s basketball team.
“Without these surgeries, there’s no way I could have done any of that,” Jerren said.
He also became a voice for Norton Children’s and an advocate for other kids with medical conditions. Jerren has been a frequent participant in the hospital’s annual Radiothon. His journey also was on display at the Frazier History Museum celebrating Norton Children’s 125th anniversary.
“Norton Children’s has been such a big part of my life, and I wanted to give back,” Jerren said. “I hope my story will help others.”
In July 2018, Dr. Jacks performed Jerren’s final operation. He now stands 5 foot 7 inches — not bad for a young man who would still have infant-sized legs if not for the dozens of surgeries.
“I feel extremely fortunate,” Jerren said. “I can live a normal life.”
That normal life includes finishing his degree. Jerren is a junior at Indiana University Southeast and is set to graduate on time. He’s also started his own satellite radio show called “On the Air with Jerr,” and he hopes it expands into a networking site for musical talent and entrepreneurs.
“If I stay hungry, continue to work hard and follow my vision, I can’t wait to see what the future holds,” he said.
While Jerren is glad to see his final surgery come and go, he admits he’ll miss seeing Dr. Jacks.
“She has been such a big part of my life — she saved my life,” he said. “I can’t thank her enough for all that she’s done for me.”
For Dr. Jacks, the feeling is mutual.
“I love Jerren like he’s a child of my own,” Dr. Jacks said. “Given what he’s been through and how he’s overcome so much adversity, I know he’ll do great things in this world.”