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Guardian Angel

A new medical device offers hope for bone-cancer victims.

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Emily Land first suspected something was wrong with her left leg in January 2003 when she had trouble flexing her quadricep. For many people, this would be a minor annoyance. For Land, a Division I soccer player at the University of Tennessee-Martin, this was a problem.

And with every passing week, her symptoms grew worse.

"I'd randomly just, you know, fall down," she explains. "I had trouble climbing stairs, the pain kept getting worse and worse, and my doctors couldn't figure out why. After three months, I had to tell them that nothing seemed to help."

Land was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of malignant bone cancer that affects about 900 people each year. Of these cases, about a third are fatal.

She was offered several treatment options, including amputating her leg, but she would have to act immediately.

"I was extremely scared of losing my leg," she says. "I was determined to be physically active, but they told me the alternative to amputation was one of the harshest treatments at St. Jude." Nevertheless, she persevered, enduring four rounds of chemotherapy that lasted almost a whole year.

But her treatment included more than chemo. She was also fitted with an internal prosthesis designed by Arlington-based Wright Medical Technology -- a device called the "Guardian" -- that would save her leg. It stretches from six inches below her hip to six inches above her ankle. The still-healthy exterior of her existing bone would be enclosed in a rigid casing, and her kneecap would crown the exterior of the artificial joint. The aim was to restore her range of motion.

"Fourteen weeks of physical therapy -- every single day," she sighs as she recalls the treatment. "After four weeks, I could put the crutches down. There were times I came out of therapy sweating and crying, but I felt good about myself because I knew from soccer that sometimes it took pain to get results."

After a second surgery to correct minor errors with the first prosthesis, Emily's range of motion has now reached a full 120 degrees. Though she can't play soccer anymore due to the stress it would put on the prosthesis, she has embraced mountain biking and can be found riding with her husband at Shelby Farms almost every weekend.

Most important, though, are the benefits that can't be measured in degrees.

"The greatest thing about having this prosthesis is that it is internal," she says. "Every time I go out in public I don't have to open myself up to telling my story. After going through chemo -- being bald, sick, and gray -- I don't stand out anymore. [I can] stand out in other ways. I can be a good friend, good public speaker, and a good worker first and a cancer patient second.

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