I opened the door to my 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom on a bright October morning. It was a Friday—her “best day” as she called every Friday—and when light poured into her purple room, I thought her swollen mouth was one more symptom of the nasty cold and cough she’d been battling. The antibiotic would kick in soon.
When my daughter looked worse the next day, I took her to her pediatrician, who sent us to the emergency room. A virus, we were told. Come back tomorrow if anything changes. It did: Her eyes were red, she had a fever, and her mouth was blood red and much more swollen. “A bad virus,” the ER doctor told us.
By Monday morning, my daughter had even more sores in her mouth and red spots on her back. Her fever spiked at 104. We rushed to the pediatrician. “I never thought I would have to say this, because it’s just so rare,” the doctor said, “but it looks like Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS).”
“I’ve skied 1.7 million vertical feet in the last five years,” says 36-year-old Philip ‘Puck’ Wheaton. It’s an awful lot of skiing, especially for a guy who was born without an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)—the critical ligament that holds the knee together.
When Puck had started walking in 1979, he seemed to wobble a bit—like most toddlers do, says his mother Liz Wheaton. At his 18-month checkup, his pediatrician determined there was more to Puck’s unsteadiness than run-of-the-mill toddler wobbliness. He referred Puck to Lyle Micheli, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Division.
“Dr. Micheli was right on the case and determined that Puck was missing his ACL,” says Liz.
An innovation in ACL surgery
Puck’s condition made for a very challenging surgical dilemma. Surgery to reconstruct torn ACLs was pioneered in the late 1960s, but it required drill holes through the knee. The operation couldn’t be safely performed on growing children because the drill holes could damage the growth plates of the knee and disrupt future leg growth. In fact, no surgeon had attempted ACL reconstruction surgery on a child younger than age two at the time.
Micheli did what the world’s best surgeons do. He improvised and innovated.