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Reagan Whitson: A brave little girl's devastating accident

Of the more than 3,500 plastic surgery patients who come to Scott & White each year, fewer than 10 percent are children. But their lives are dramatically changed when the Scott & White team members are called upon, as is illustrated by the story of one young patient who was saved by the heroic work of plastic surgeon Raman C. Mahabir, MD, MSc, FRCSC.

Not even a year ago, then three-year-old Reagan Whitson of Belton, TX, was playing on the porch of her home while her dad, Clayton, was mowing the lawn. Mr. Whitson did not realize that Reagan had hopped off the porch until he turned around with the lawn mower and Reagan’s leg got caught under the blade, slicing her calf muscle clear down to the heel bone. Horrified, Mr. Whitson called 911. Harker Heights paramedics rushed Reagan to Scott & White’s main hospital in Temple, TX. The multidisciplinary trauma team, which included Dr. Mahabir, assessed the situation and concluded that Reagan had lost the majority of her calf muscle and heel bone, and was in serious danger of losing her foot.

Dr. Mahabir told the Whitsons that he had two options to help their young daughter, both of them fraught with challenges. He could try to reconstruct Reagan’s leg and heel, the more desirable option, but success depended on whether or not her vascular structures would tolerate such a delicate operation. To attempt this salvage would require a major operation and sacrificing a muscle from her back. If reconstruction was not feasible, amputation was the only recourse.

Facing a very difficult decision

Ultimately, they chose the option to trust in Dr. Mahabir and Scott & White to potentially save Reagan’s leg and foot. Dr. Mahabir was able to successfully complete the reconstruction. He performed a functional muscle transfer, in which he took a muscle from her back, transplanted it to her leg using a microscopic surgical technique and reattached it in such a way that it would replace the missing muscles in both appearance and function.

After a three-week hospitalization, Reagan went home with her exhausted but hopeful parents and her older brother, Sam, age four. She wore a leg brace and was unable to put any pressure on her foot until it was completely healed. Once healed, she began her own process of physical therapy. Dr. Mahabir monitored Reagan’s progress, with the hope that the transplanted muscle would allow her to have a fully functional leg and foot.

Over a period of a few months, function returned to the transplanted muscle and the brace was no longer necessary. The muscle is now growing with her and she can again stand on her tiptoes, run and play without any obvious sign of the injury. Reagan’s tremendous progress is a source of pride for her team of caregivers and her family, who are more than grateful to Dr. Mahabir and his colleagues for saving their little girl’s leg and foot.

"Reagan is truly a miracle, and Scott & White really gave us hope," says Mrs. Whitson. Reagan’s team included orthopedic surgeon Michael Brennan, MD, and physical therapist Tammye Baecker. Reagan, now four years old, is quite literally getting back on her feet and is developing the way any normal, healthy child would.

"Reagan is a special young lady, and as far as we know, she is one of the few in the world who have had this kind of surgery with success," says Dr. Mahabir. "She has persevered through all of this and is a bright smile in my day when I see her."