HEALTHY LIVING
08/12/2011 12:33 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2011

Dugan Smith, Bone Cancer Survivor, Has Leg Reattached Backward

Like many other 13-year-old boys, Ohio boy Dugan Smith loves baseball. He even played pitcher and first base for his middle school baseball team last year. But unlike most other boys, he played with a backward-facing leg.

Smith was diagnosed with bone cancer called osteosarcoma when he 10, after going into the doctor because of a broken femur. Doctors found a tumor the size of a softball in his thigh bone that was spreading into his leg, and realized that Smith -- an athletic, active kid -- would have to have his leg amputated, MSNBC reported.

"I didn't know if I was ever going to be able to run again. I didn't know if it was going to work so there was a hundred things running through my mind and I just try to stay positive," Smith told Fox8 News.

But a procedure called "rotationplasty" -- where Smith's real calf is now his thigh and his real ankle is now his knee -- would give Smith a chance to run and play sports again. Only about a dozen of those surgical procedures are done in the U.S. each year, and allows the person to use just 30 percent more energy to walk or run than with a normal leg, compared with 75 percent more energy if the person got an amputation above the knee, ABC News reported.

The family opted to do it.

Dr. Joel Mayerson, Smith's surgeon and chief of musculoskeletal oncology at Arthur James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University, told MSNBC how the procedure works:

In Dugan's case, doctors removed the tumor by cutting above and below his knee. They then flipped around the lower portion of his leg and reattached it to the upper part. "This allows us to cut all of the cancer out, and leave the nerve that controls his foot intact, by turning it around backward," explains Mayerson.

Less than a day after the surgery, Smith was already able to move his toes on his reattached leg. Now, he can play sports and stay active, though he told MSNBC that he still has some trouble running.