Groundbreaking new device helps correct Chicago man’s severe bow legs

Charles Jefferson OrthoSpin
Charles Jefferson after receiving robotic orthopaedic surgery to correct his bow leg deformity.
In high school, Charles Jefferson’s severe bow leg didn’t stop him from playing football and wrestling. But as he got older, the curve in his right leg became more severe, causing terrible leg and knee pain. It became nearly impossible for him to work.

Shortly after his 23rd birthday, Jefferson went to see University of Chicago Medicine orthopaedic surgeon Aravind Athiviraham, MD, who referred him to his colleague, Daryl Dillman, MD, who specializes in bone deformities and orthopaedic trauma.

Jefferson’s bow leg was “one of the worst I’ve seen,” Dillman said, and proposed using a groundbreaking new technology called OrthoSpin to straighten his leg.

UChicago Medicine became the first hospital in the Midwest and only the third hospital in the U.S. to use this robotic OrthoSpin device.

During outpatient surgery in March 2021, Dillman cut Jefferson’s right leg bone and attached it to a large external circular frame that was held in place with eight pins.

The frame was controlled by six computerized OrthoSpin struts. Seventeen times a day, OrthoSpin made small, automatic adjustments to those pins, keeping the leg bone straight as it healed. In the past, patients would have to manually adjust their own leg frame six times a day.

“The adjustments that need to be done are very complicated. Having the robot do them makes it a very precise process and decreases the risk of problems,” Dillman said. “It worked perfectly.”

Once the bone was straight and in place, it just had to heal. Jefferson had to wear the large frame around his leg for about six months.

It was removed Sept. 23, and the 25-year-old South Side resident said could hardly wait to do things he couldn’t do with the brace, like sleep on his stomach or wash his whole leg in the shower.

“I miss work. I know that sounds crazy, but I miss working and driving my own car,” said Jefferson, who now works in audio production.

It was a difficult six months for Jefferson, who faced both a physical and mental battle during his recovery. An active and independent man, he was often stuck at home. Several times a day, he had to ask his mom or girlfriend to help him with basic needs like getting dressed or taking a shower.

The first few months, the pain in his leg was intense and constant. Medications and pain relief techniques didn’t seem to help. Jefferson admits that at times it hurt so much, he cried.

But he persisted and stayed focused on healing. He went to physical therapy twice a week for a month, took vitamins and minerals for bone health, tried to stay as active as possible, and went to regular appointments where Dillman scanned his leg to see how it was healing.

The pain slowly began to subside in June. Soon he was walking on the treadmill and could go out more easily on his own.

“I was determined,” he said. “This journey has been crazy, but it’s been worth it.”

Jefferson and Dillman also developed a friendship. They’re on a first name basis, and Dillman listens to Jefferson’s rap music on YouTube. They often talk about a wide range of subjects not related to his medical care.

“He’s not just my doctor. He’s pretty cool,” Jefferson said. “I wouldn’t have anyone else do this. He knows what he’s doing. I can see why he’s really praised at the hospital.”

Because of the severity of his bow leg deformity, Dillman said Jefferson needed to wear the brace longer than usual. While he could have opted for a quicker treatment – such as breaking Jefferson’s leg in hopes that it would grow back straight – it wasn’t a guarantee. It could have resulted in Jefferson’s leg needing to be broken again and again.

“When there’s a large deformity, it’s better to use this brace and correct it gradually,” Dillman said. “Not everybody needs one of these frames. There are a lot of other options for less severe bow legs.”

Dillman, who mostly works in trauma repairing bones damaged by bullets, did extra training in his residency and fellowship on bow leg deformity. He said it’s not unusual for trauma surgeons to veer into this field, as a lot of bone deformities are the result of trauma.

For anyone with severe bow legs who is considering surgery with a large brace and OrthoSpin, Jefferson said the most important advice he can offer is to acknowledge that it will take time, it will be painful and it will require an at-home support system.

“This is definitely something where you’ll need a person around you 24 hours a day. I couldn’t have done this by myself,” he said. “This surgery will be the best decision you made, for your health. But it takes time. You really have to be prepared for it.”
Aravind Athiviraham

Aravind Athiviraham, MD

A specialist in orthopaedic sports medicine, Aravind Athiviraham, MD, cares for patients with athletic and overuse injuries, including anterior or posterior cruciate ligament tears, meniscus or cartilage injury, patellar or shoulder instability and elbow ulnar collateral ligament tears. He is skilled in minimally invasive and arthroscopic procedures of the knee, shoulder and elbow.

Learn more about Dr. Athiviraham
Daryl Dillman

Daryl Dillman, MD, MPH

Daryl Dillman, MD, is a skilled orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in orthopaedic trauma and fracture care for limbs and pelvis injuries in patients of all ages.

Learn more about Dr. Dillman
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