A motorcyclist who lost part of his leg in a road accident will become the first person in Britain to have his limb rebuilt using donor bones.
Stu Jotham, 29, was thrown from his motorbike in 2011 and skidded across the road. He lost a section of his thigh bone and calf bone — as well as all his knee ligaments in his right leg.
Although surgeons managed to save his leg, Jotham was left using a wheelchair, suffering chronic pain and unable to work.
But now doctors are preparing to perform an operation to patch his limb with parts from a donor knee joint. Previously, bone grafts have been used to help limbs or the spinal column to heal, but they are usually confined to small areas. It is the first time that an operation on such as scale has been attempted in Britain.
The operation, to be carried out at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, has only been performed twice worldwide. Jotham has been on a waiting list for three years while a person of similar limb size was found.
The procedure is so complicated that it could take a further two years for the bones to knit together with his limb.
“I don’t mind, because it will work for me and, hopefully, it will restore some sort of strength and stability in my knee, which is the ultimate goal,” said Jotham, of Stroud, Glos.
“The thought that some young bloke died somewhere and that I’m having a bit of his leg, it’s a weird concept — but an amazing one. I’d love to find out who this donor is or his family and just send them a letter to say thank you. They’ve literally given me bones and bits of body.”
Jotham, a landscaper, was riding to Devon for a day out with his family when he was knocked off his bike in Gloucestershire in April 2011.
He was taken to Gloucester Royal Infirmary and then transferred to Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital, where surgeons warned there was a high chance he would lose his leg.
“I was told there was a 95 per cent chance I would lose my leg and I begged and pleaded with them because I had a martial arts fight in two weeks,” said Jotham.
Three operations followed, where tissue from his back was used temporarily to reconstruct the limb, and skin grafted from his left leg while a donor was sought. Jotham was told in November that a suitable donor had been found.
Before the operation, surgeons will scan Jotham’s leg to determine how much of the donor bones need to be taken, and so that they are as close a fit as possible to the cavity.
They will then carefully remove part of the donor thigh bone while it is still attached to the calf bone by the knee ligaments. The complete knee joint will then be bolted on to the remaining part of Jotham’s leg and allowed to heal.
Bones can regrow of their own accord, but they need a very small space to grow into, so the donor bone should eventually join together with Jotham’s leg completely but the process is likely to be lengthy and painful.
“Going through it has been hard, of course, but there are people in worse places than me. I have to stay positive,” said Jotham. “I know I won’t be able to fight again, but I want to run and train, and travel with my girlfriend. When I’m older, I want to be able to run around. 2015 is pretty much written off for rehab, but I want to come back strong and fit.”
James Murray, the consultant surgeon who will be carrying out the operation said, “We believe it is the first application of this technique in this setting.”