A 71-year-old’s leg was saved after an eight-inch section of her shinbone was removed, taken for radiation treatment at another hospital, and then reinserted before she woke up from surgery.
Jan Ritson said the procedure, believed to be the first of its kind carried out in Scotland, was “like science fiction” and “absolutely mind blowing”.
The grandmother said she was now looking forward to returning to playing golf and gardening.
Without the radical move, surgeons would have had to amputate her left leg to treat a sarcoma, a form of cancer, discovered after she began to experience intense pain during lockdown.
The section of her tibia was removed at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, and sent on a 20-minute, six-mile journey to the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow in a sterile container. There, it was treated with radiation for two hours, before being sent back to Clydebank.
Surgeons reinserted it, but because the radiation had effectively killed the bone, it would no longer receive a blood supply. To get around this, “clean” bone from Ms Ritson’s fibula was then used to effectively bring the tibia “back to life”.
Overall, the surgery took 12 hours and Ms Ritson, from Stewarton in East Ayrshire, who has twice beaten breast cancer, is now recovering well following the procedure in August.
Mrs Ritson said: “I’ve had cancer diagnoses twice in the past and I knew I couldn’t just live with it so I knew something needed to be done, whatever that was.
“Initially they thought there was no way I could take an operation like that because of my age but that was before I saw the surgeon who was happy to try because I’m fit and healthy.
“It’s like something out of science fiction. It’s absolutely mind-blowing what they have achieved.”
Although she initially struggled to get an in-person appointment with a GP due to coronavirus restrictions, Mrs Ritson was sent for an X-ray after an osteopath said that an initial diagnosis of sciatica was incorrect.
The surgery was captured on video and she was later able to watch the footage from her hospital bed.
She said: “They showed me the part where they removed the bone and put it into the special box. It was a bit bizarre, an out-of-body experience.
“It was a little bit daunting, I have to say, knowing that if the operation hadn’t worked out that it would mean an amputation. Now that it’s done I feel wonderful.”
The surgery was led by Ashish Mahendra, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon from Glasgow Royal Infirmary who has used the technique before for a small number of pelvic and hip tumours. However, it is believed to be the first time in Scotland that it has been used on a leg.
The surgery involved a team of three specialist consultant surgeons, two consultant anaesthetists, a radiation oncology consultant, sarcoma specialist nurses and the National Blood Transfusion Service.
The procedure would normally have been performed at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, but in April the sarcoma service was transferred to the Golden Jubilee, a hospital that serves patients from across Scotland, to ensure the service could continue during the pandemic.