DALLAS If you ask Will McCraney, every time he moves his left leg in front of his right, it's a blessing. Three years ago, he thought he'd never be able to again.
A motorcycle accident left the 28-year-old sprawled out on the side of Interstate 35 in Lewisville, nearly dead. Six inches of his leg bone sat beside him on the pavement.
"His knee was intact, his foot was intact," saidMethodist Dallas orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Usha Mani. "But he was missing the majority of bone, muscle and skin in between."
"What made Will very unique was he was able to feel and move his toes," Mani said, "which immediately made him a candidate for limb salvage versus amputation."
Mani decided to try to save his leg instead of amputate. She rigged a contraption to help him regrow his leg bone.
"I just thought, 'God, how is this possible?'" McCraney said, "I just couldn't believe it."
Mani began by breaking off a fragment of the already broken tibia. She then secured that piece of bone to a rod between his knee and ankle. The bones slowly regenerated, eventually meeting in the middle, in near perfect form, by a technique called distraction osteogenesis.
"It's utilized in many countries to lengthen dwarfism, to correct for congenital anomalies and also for traumatic bone loss," Mani said.
In the United States, distraction osteogenesis is used routinely in craniofacial cases where jawbones need to be lengthened. In those cases, the technique can add an inch or so of bone. Regrowing as much bone as Will McCraney needed is quite unusual.
It took six months, but millimeter by millimeter, McCraney regrew half a foot of his leg bone.
"I just knew it was a miracle from God," says McCraney, who admits the process was also painful. "There were times when I thought I made the wrong choice. Then there were times when I thought this was the best decision."
Skin grafts from other portions of his body have given him a fully functioning leg. Mani said the effort saved McCraney a lifetime of expensive prosthetic legs.
"It's amazing," she said. "He has a painless functional extremity. He really has no restrictions and his future looks really bright."
"Just the thought of being able to have my own leg versus prosthetic," says McCraney. "I mean I've heard stories of people that still have complications even after losing a limb."
McCraney recently married and is studying to be a nurse. He hopes his case inspires other patients who may think the odds of recovery are too great. Doctors, family and Will McCraney himself agree he is a walking miracle.