Osteosarcoma isn’t slowing down this Kentucky teen

Abby Wimsatt, 14, looks to the future after rotationplasty surgery at Norton Children’s Hospital. This is the story of her cancer journey.

Norton Children’s Cancer Institute

Offering extraordinary and individualized childhood cancer care to families.

Abby Wimsatt is excited for the future after receiving a unique operation to treat bone cancer in her leg.

Last year, Abby, a 14-year-old from Cecilia, Kentucky, developed knee pain. At first the gymnast and her family chalked it up to an injury. But after pain wouldn’t go away, Abby was scheduled for an MRI, which showed a mass in her leg.

“After the MRI, we were told to go to Norton Children’s Hospital right away,” said Caitlyn Alexander, Abby’s mom.

After a biopsy, doctors were able to confirm the diagnosis. Abby had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that is diagnosed in 800 people a year in the U.S. Roughly half of those cases are in children.

“It all happened so quickly,” Caitlyn said. “We had a lot of decisions to make.”

An unusual surgery

If osteosarcoma hasn’t spread throughout the body, the cancer often can be treated by removing the affected limb. In addition to chemotherapy, Abby was looking at limb-salvage surgery or potentially having her leg amputated. Doctors at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, brought up another option: rotationplasty.

Rotationplasty is a surgical procedure that can be used to treat bone tumors near the knee. The bottom of the femur, the knee and the upper tibia are surgically removed, and then the lower leg is rotated 180 degrees before being attached to the femur.

“With a rotationplasty, the patient’s foot is reattached backward,” said Kerry K. McGowan, M.D., pediatric oncologist with Norton Children’s Cancer Institute. “The ankle serves as a replacement knee joint. In many cases, it leaves patients with greater leg function than a standard amputation.”

After undergoing rotationplasty, patients are able to wear a prosthetic limb on their reattached foot.

After much discussion, Abby decided to have the surgery.

“We got a list of options, and background research to get a baseline of what everything was,” she said. “We mainly picked this surgery because it would allow me to have more mobility, and there was a lower chance of the cancer coming back.”

Caitlyn said the operation gave Abby more options for her future when compared with other surgeries that would severely limit her activity and require several follow-up operations.

“We reached out to some other parents and asked them their experience with the operation,” Caitlyn said. “Every parent we talked to said their kids have no limits, and they can snowboard, run, roller-skate and do all kinds of things.”

Abby had her rotationplasty in January 2024. While she’s still recovering and undergoing treatment at Norton Children’s, she’s in high spirits and looking forward to getting back to life.

“I’ve been playing a lot of games with my friends,” she said. “The nurses up at the hospital are also really nice, and Luna, the facility dog at the hospital, is a blast.”

Abby’s brother is a heart transplant recipient

This isn’t the family’s first time undergoing a major surgery at Norton Children’s Hospital. Abby’s younger brother, Eli, was born with a heart condition in 2017. He spent the first six months of his life at Norton Children’s Hospital, undergoing multiple surgeries and eventually a heart transplant.

Now 6 years old, Eli is a happy and active kid. He still seeks treatment from the team at Norton Children’s Heart Institute.

After Abby’s surgery, she spent time recovering in one of Eli’s former hospital rooms.

“That was very emotional,” Caitlyn said. “Having one child going through a life-threatening condition is tough. Doing it twice is surreal.”

Smiles and a bright future

Despite two tough diagnoses for Abby and Eli, the family approaches each day with laughter and optimism.

“Recovery and physical therapy make the experience a lot easier,” Abby said. “I’m mostly excited to relearn how to do a bunch of things that were easier to do with two legs, like roller-skating.”

“She’s a very determined young lady, and I know that she’s going to do something great with her life,” Caitlyn said.

And they’re grateful for the care they’ve received at Norton Children’s.

“They’re like family to us,” Caitlyn said. “First with Eli and then with Abby, we’ve gotten to fall in love with the staff twice.”