In September 2019, Asha, then 15, had been enjoying time at the beach over the school holidays when she suddenly started experiencing leg pain so severe, she could hardly walk.
After her family GP requested X-rays and referred her to the Queensland Children’s Hospital in order to find a cause for Asha’s pain, her family received the news no one wants to hear. Asha had Ewing Sarcoma, a type of bone and tissue cancer that mostly affects children and young people.
“We started discussing treatment options with her doctors straight away, and she had her first chemotherapy treatment on her sixteenth birthday,” Asha’s mum Luci recalled.
“We tried not to think too much about the diagnosis, instead we were focused on getting her better.”
Asha’s health journey would see her become the youngest person in the world to have pioneering reconstructive surgery using a custom 3D-printed scaffold implant that enables her own bone tissue to regenerate. The novel procedure is designed to remove the need for future operations or lengthening adjustments as she grows that would usually be required with standard limb reconstruction options, such as a metal prosthesis or bone transplant.
“The doctors told us about an experimental surgery that might help Asha. To us it was a no brainer, the benefits of taking a chance on this type of surgery far outweighed any of the alternative options and we decided to go ahead with it.”
Four months later, the tumour had responded well to treatment and had reduced in size.
In March 2020, she underwent surgery to remove 12.5cm of diseased bone from her left leg. A custom 3D-printed implant made of a porous biodegradable material lined with some of her own healthy tissue was used to replace the segment of bone during the procedure. The implant, which is supported by a titanium plate, is designed to act as a framework for new bone to grow while it slowly dissolves inside the body.
After surgery Asha needed further chemotherapy and radiation, she completed her treatment in September 2020. Now in remission, her reconstructed leg is getting stronger each day, and she continues to visit the hospital for rehabilitation and oncology check-ups.
“Asha is proud of the scars on her leg and we feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity to take part in this surgery,” Luci said.
“The doctors said they couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone so far, so that’s really encouraging. I’m so proud of how she’s handled everything that’s come her way.”
After a year off school to focus on her treatment, Asha is looking forward to starting year 11 in 2021. Inspired by her medical team, who have “been like family” she hopes to pursue a career in medicine in the future.