Emma Savarese was born with a short femur, no anterior cruciate ligament, and a badly deformed left hip. Without corrective surgery, her left leg was likely to be 10 inches shorter than her right leg at maturity. In 2014 the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote:
At age 15, on Sunday, Aug. 3, she jumped off Alcatraz Island into the icy waves of the San Francisco Bay and swam more than 1.5 miles to Chrissy Field Beach at Presidio Park next to the Golden Gate Bridge. She stepped out of the water first among all females, first in her swim only category, and fifth overall out of 257 total competitors in the Alcatraz Challenge Swim that day.
Desire to Swim
Swimming was freedom for her; an opportunity to cast aside the crutches and be just like her friends in the pool. The hard part for Emma came whenever she could not swim. Surgeries, 22 of them, came early and often. It began when she was only a year old. Doctors at Shriner’s Hospital in Louisville recommended to her parents amputating her foot and fusing her knee to create a good stump for a prosthetic leg.
“At the time, we thought it was ridiculous,” said Emma’s mom, Molly Savarese.
While they know now, that can be the best recommendation in many similar cases, Molly and Chris Savarese went to the doctor with a different request for their daughter.
“We went to the doctor and said make that leg longer,” said Emma’s dad, Chris Savarese.
Because Emma’s lower leg was intact and could bear weight, a limb lengthening option gave them hope.
The Paley Institute
Over the next 10 years, Emma endured 21 more surgeries including hip reconstructions, knee reconstructions, limb lengthening procedures, and a procedure to actually slow the growth in her right leg. Most surgeries were performed by Dr. Dror Paley at the Paley Advanced Limb Lengthening Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. Most recovery was away from home, family and friends with painful physical therapy.
Emma’s leg was lengthened by four inches. The difference between her two legs is just under two inches. In a couple years, when she is at full skeletal maturity, Emma could have a final year-long lengthening procedure.
In the decades since, Dr. Paley continues to offer innovative treatment options at the Paley Institute at St. Mary’s Medical Center, an orthopedic program specifically designed to treat limb lengthening, complex deformities, and a range of orthopedic conditions. The treatment philosophy of the Paley Institute continues to focus on reconstruction over amputation, and a commitment to preserving limbs and joints, and restoring function.