'Extraordinary' surgery to save cancer patient's leg deemed successful

Jan Ritson’s bone was removed, sent to another hospital for radiation treatment and then re-inserted back into her leg.

‘Extraordinary’ surgery to save a bone cancer patient’s leg deemed successful NHS
Jan Ritson underwent an 'extraordinary' surgery in the thick of the pandemic to save her leg.

An “extraordinary” operation carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic to save a cancer sufferer’s leg has been called a resounding success.

Jan Ritson’s shin bone was removed, sent to another hospital for radiation treatment and then re-inserted back into her leg in a 12-hour procedure in the thick of the pandemic.

Now, almost two years later, the keen golfer is getting back into the swing of normal life after her recovery period.

The rare and complicated operation in August 2020 consisted of removing Jan’s tibia from her left leg at the Golden Jubilee University National Hospital in Clydebank and taken on a 20-minute journey to Glasgow’s Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in a sterile container.

At the Beatson, the bone received radiotherapy – before being re-packaged and brought back to the Golden Jubilee, where the team was waiting to insert it back in place, all while Jan was asleep on the operating table.

“I feel that I’m a very, very lucky person and extremely lucky to still have my leg”, Jan said.

An avid golfer, Jan is now getting back into the swing of things. NHS
An avid golfer, Jan is now getting back into the swing of things.

The procedure would normally have been performed at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, but in April 2020 the sarcoma service was transferred to the Golden Jubilee to ensure patients continued to receive essential cancer care throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

She added: “I feel everything has gone according to plan. They did say that it was going to be two years before everything was healed and I’d be walking properly again.

“I still have some pain in my ankle, which may not be as a result of the operation, but could possibly be age related. I’ve recently had an MRI scan which should indicate if there are any concerns.

“However, I’m back playing golf every week, walking much better and I’m absolutely delighted with the outcome of this.

The surgical teams, led by consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ashish Mahendra of Glasgow Royal Infirmary and teams from NHS Golden Jubilee and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, carried out the gruelling 12-hour procedure with the aim of saving her leg and avoiding amputation.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ashish Mahendra led the team who carried out the surgery. NHS
Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ashish Mahendra led the team who carried out the surgery.

“I can’t praise Mr Mahendra and the teams at the Golden Jubilee highly enough. Mr Mahendra even came in on a day off, just to make sure I was OK and I didn’t have any issues, which I think is just amazing”, Jan said.

“Everything went extremely well. The teams were amazing and the care I received was second to none. I’m absolutely delighted with the whole process, and the staff were really superb in every respect.”

Jan is also encouraging anyone who may have symptoms of bone cancer to seek help immediately.

She said: “The earlier cancer is diagnosed the better chance you have of survival so you must go and get and checked out for an early diagnosis if you’re worried about your symptoms.”

Mr Mahendra added: “For the kind of tumour that Jan had there are two main things that we look at – the most important is from the cancer point of view and the second is the leg function after reconstruction.

“The other thing that we have to closely monitor is the disease showing up at any other place because it was a high grade tumour that Jan was diagnosed with.

“The chances are higher in the first couple of years and after that they are strongly in favour of the patient, but it has all gone to plan so far.”

NHS Golden Jubilee chief executive, Jann Gardner, said: “At the time this procedure was done it was a very difficult period during the pandemic and we had to adapt to working in new ways to ensure patients got the urgent treatment they required.

“This involved collaborating across health board boundaries and I think Jan’s case is a shining example of how working together with colleagues across NHSScotland, in this case NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, can deliver amazing results for the people of Scotland.

“This is especially important in helping diagnose and treat urgent cases and those who are currently on a waiting list, which is the absolute focus for every health board across the country.”