Kansas City, Kan. If Gary Paul had been admitted to Kansas University Hospital three months ago, instead of last week, he probably would have gone home to Potwin without his right arm.
But now, because of a new treatment protocol never before used in the United States, Paul will keep both arms - and his right arm could eventually be as good as it's ever been.
"I was in so much pain. It was unreal," Paul said in his hospital bed just days after the surgery. "I had lived with it since last July."
Paul, a retired Raytheon employee, was suffering from a tumor in his right arm, near the biceps, that had cropped up after a bout with liver cancer. The tumor had destroyed most of the bone in his upper arm and stretched the nerves to the point that they were constantly sending pain signals to his brain. His muscles had atrophied.
The tumor had to be removed, but traditionally that would have meant his arm would need to be amputated as well.
Enter Dr. Kim Templeton, an orthopedic oncologist at KU Hospital. Just weeks before meeting Paul, she'd learned of a new device that had been developed by the Merete company in Germany. It had been used about 100 times around the world in cases like Paul's.
"Tumors in the middle of bones don't happen too often," Templeton said. "This was fairly difficult because Mr. Paul had a very large tumor. We had to peel all the nerves and muscles off."
After six hours of surgery, the bone in the upper arm had largely been replaced by a titanium OsteoBridge, connected to the remaining bone with a healthy dose of cement and screws. Eventually, with a little rehabilitation and a little time, Paul should have no restrictions on what sort of activities he can do.
"As people discover this, I imagine they'll be doing it more often," Templeton said. "This is a problem that doesn't happen very often."
But according to Werner von Heimann, marketing director of Merete, the next surgery is already scheduled for next week in Boston. And he should know - the company sends one of its engineers to every surgery.
"We're quite keen to make sure it's used properly," von Heimann said. "We're quite keen to bring the message across personally and assist in every operation that is done."
Of course, Paul isn't as worried about the first-in-the-nation status. He's just glad to have his arm back. And three days after surgery, he was already cracking jokes about his implant as he wiggled his arm back and forth.
"My oldest sister said I'm going to be the bionic man," Paul said. "I've got the bionic arm."
Now all he has to worry about is rehab and getting through airport metal detectors the next time he hops on an airplane. By then, he'll be able to carry his own luggage.