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Rachel Kovach, who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2011, is back in the pool; read her story on ANationinMotion.org
Courtesy of Rachel Kovach

AAOS Now

Published 8/1/2012
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Michael F. Schafer, MD; Lauren P. Riley

Telling Stories on ANationinMotion.org

Patients help AAOS express the value of orthopaedics

Rachel Kovach, a 12-year-old girl from Highlands, N.J., swam her first ocean mile last month, finishing 177th out of 250 swimmers. “This is a very big deal to me,” said Rachel, “because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to continue swimming after my cancer diagnosis.”

Rachel is just one of the more than 500 patients participating in the Academy’s newest public awareness campaign, A Nation in Motion, which is designed to deepen the understanding of the value that orthopaedic surgeons provide, by improving health and enhancing quality of life for millions of Americans. Her story, which is on the ANationinMotion.org website, goes like this:

Just before Thanksgiving in 2010, Rachel began having pain in her right knee. Her parents took her to an orthopaedic physician who initially thought that the pain was caused by tendinitis from her swim training. He advised her not to train with fins for a few days and to take a pain reliever.

Things were fine for a few weeks, but in mid-January, Rachel’s knee began to hurt again. Her right thigh was swollen, and the pain was so bad that she had trouble sleeping. She returned to the doctor, who, after seeing the swelling in her thigh, recommended that Rachel get a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI).

The MRI found a mass in her leg, which her orthopaedic surgeon thought could be Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that strikes children and teenagers. Rachel was referred to John Dormans, MD, chief of orthopaedic surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and was able to see him right away.

“I later came to know that this was a really good thing,” said Rachel, “because every day counts when you’re fighting a cancer that grows as fast as mine.”

After a biopsy confirmed that the tumor was Ewing Sarcoma, Rachel began 14 rounds of chemotherapy. After round 6 in early May 2011, Dr. Dormans performed limb salvage surgery on her right leg. He removed what was left of the tumor as well as two-thirds of her femur and her right femoral head. He replaced them with a cobalt-chrome prosthesis. Immediately after the surgery, Dr. Dormans told Rachel’s parents he was pleased with the way the surgery went; he was able to get clean margins and to fit the prosthetic.

“When I found out I had cancer, I was so scared,” recalled Rachel. “But, Dr. Dormans made me aware of everything along the way. He was such a nice doctor. He even came to check on me in the late evening on the day of my surgery before going home.”

After 8 weeks in a brace that helped her maintain stability in her hip while healing from the surgery, Rachel began physical therapy to regain strength and straighten out her gait. By the end of July, just 4 months after surgery, she was back in the pool!

This past spring, she qualified for her state’s swimming championships for her age group, and she swam away with two personal best times in the 50 meter back stroke and 100 meter freestyle races.

“Dr. Dormans did an amazing job with my surgery,” said Rachel, “and he enabled me to go back to do what I love….I can swim again! And, my experience has inspired me to think about a career as a pediatric oncologist so that I can help other kids who might have to go through what I did.”

As orthopaedic surgeons, AAOS members not only save lives, but also enable people to live fuller, more active lives. Patients benefit from orthopaedists’ knowledge and skills that enable them to return to work or, in Rachel’s case, to activities that they enjoy.

“What is so inspiring about this campaign is that we continue to hear from patients who are contemplating certain orthopaedic procedures,” said Leon Benson, MD, vice chair of the AAOS Communications Cabinet. “Patients are using this site as a research tool and network for what to expect before, during, and after surgery. It provides a first-person perspective and enables patients to relate to other patients’ experiences.”

All AAOS members who participate in this campaign are acknowledged in two areas of the website—in the list of contributing members under the “About” tab and in the patient stories, because many patients specifically name their orthopaedic surgeons.

In addition to expressing value through patient stories, other elements of the A Nation in Motion campaign have been used in advocacy and media relations efforts to advance the overall reputation of orthopaedic surgeons and orthopaedic care.

Share a story
New patient stories are entered on the website each week, and it’s a testament to the great work AAOS members provide to patients. So many members have patients whose stories are like Rachel’s, and it’s important for those stories to be told. Encourage your patients to get on ANationinMotion.org and be part of this effort.

Michael F. Schafer, MD, chairs the AAOS Communications Cabinet. Lauren P. Riley is manager, media relations, in the AAOS public relations department.