Many children and teens experience growth spurts, which can often cause pain and throbbing in the legs. So, in March of 2017, when 12-year-old Caleb Estes of Knoxville, Tennessee, began complaining of leg pain, his mother, Jennifer, made an appointment with their pediatrician to see if something could be done to help her son feel better.
“Our pediatrician did an X-ray and found a mass in his femur,” says Jennifer. “So, we literally went from going to school that morning and thinking it was just growing pains to being sent that afternoon to our local hospital to have an MRI because it looked like cancer.”
Determining the Best Path Forward
The next morning, after tests confirmed Caleb had cancer, the Estes family saw pediatric orthopedic doctor Dr. John Jay Crawford in their hometown of Knoxville. After being told multiple times from others that Caleb would most likely be sent to Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, so he could be cared for by orthopedic oncologists, Dr. Crawford suggested another, newer specialist right in town.
Just a few months earlier, a dual-fellowship-trained orthopedic oncologist, Anna Wallace, M.D., had accepted a position at University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville and was in practice at University Orthopedic Surgeons.
Dr. Crawford had already shared Caleb’s information with Dr. Wallace, who was on vacation at the time, and was immediately in contact with Dr. Wallace, who also took it upon herself to review his MRI scans and set up an appointment for Caleb to have a biopsy the following business day.
“At that moment—we’re barely 24 hours into this diagnosis—we didn’t know what to expect. The thought of having to travel three hours to Nashville was adding to the stress of the whole situation,” says Jennifer. “So, we made a decision to stay local. And honestly, based on the fact that this physician was on vacation and reviewed his scans in such a short period of time and then had already made arrangements for an appointment and a biopsy—we were impressed with that.”
Felt Right, Right From the Beginning
After they met Dr. Wallace, Caleb’s mother says that their family immediately felt they had made the right decision. “She was very compassionate. You could tell both Dr. Wallace and her physician assistant, Christy Rose, were concerned about this 12-year-old child who was having to go through this.”
After Caleb’s biopsy confirmed he had osteosarcoma, and prior to meeting with Dr. Wallace, the Estes family was told Caleb would likely need to have a metal rod put in his leg to replace the cancerous bone and then, more surgeries would likely follow to would be required to extend the rod as Caleb grew.
“But Dr. Wallace said, ‘We’re not doing that. We’re going to use a cadaver bone that will grow with his bone,’” says Jennifer, Caleb’s mother. “She made us extremely comfortable with that procedure and explained why it was better. She also used language that Caleb understood. She explained to him that it would be ‘dead guy bone,’ and since Caleb preferred to refer to it that way, we used that term from then on!”
Following several months of chemotherapy, Caleb underwent the surgery and it was a huge success, in large part because Dr. Wallace was able to remove all the cancer cells, which did not require the follow-up chemotherapy after surgery they had initially planned for. After recovery, which included nine months on crutches, Caleb now sees Dr. Wallace every three months for follow-up and monitoring that will soon move to every six months and, eventually, once a year.
Growing From 5’6” to 6’3”
“He’s doing great. He’s growing—and just measured 6’3”. He was 5’6” when this process started in 2017,” says Jennifer. “Other than his incision, you would never know he had anything wrong with him.” The Estes family credits Dr. Wallace’s knowledge, skills, and expertise with helping give Caleb a normal life.
“We felt completely comfortable, we didn’t have to worry,” says Jennifer. “There was never any anxiety about turning him over to her even though we knew how major the surgery was going to be.”
If you or your loved one is in need of consultation with Dr. Wallace, please call (865) 546-2663 or request an appointment online.