LITTLE Lily Willis is on the road back to fitness after being given hi-tech new leg bones that can grow as she does.
Lily, from Great Lumley, near Chester-le-Street, needed a lengthy operation after doctors found a cancerous bone tumour called an osteosarcoma, in her right leg in February.
Surgeons removed her entire knee, tibia and part of her femur and replaced them with stainless steel adjustable bones, which can be extended as she grows up.
Doctors will be able to lengthen the bones in her shin and thigh as she gets bigger.
The extendable bones will be replaced with adult-sized ones when Lily gets to around 14.
The alternative to the complex procedure would have been to amputate the leg.
All the muscles, tendons and blood vessels in her leg were rebuilt around the new bones during the procedure, before doctors took skin from her left thigh and stretched it around the new bones and joint.
Parents Tori and Bryan first became aware that something was wrong when Lily came home complaining of having a sore ankle after a cross-country run, but assumed it was nothing more serious than a sprain.
When the pain showed no sign of easing after a couple of weeks, they took Lily to the doctor and an X-ray that revealed the tumour.
The couple found themselves facing every parent’s worst nightmare.
“When we were told Lily had the disease, I think my heart stopped for a second,” said 30-year-old Tori.
“My little girl had cancer. No parent should have to hear that.
“I thought she was going to die.”
The couple asked the experts for a prognosis, but doctors were able to offer them little in the way of reassurance.
“We asked the doctors if she was going to be okay, but it was a question they couldn’t answer,” said Tori.
“They just looked at us sympathetically.”
Lily had to undergo chemotherapy before her operation at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
But Bryan, 40, said 14 hours in surgery had only been the start of the youngster’s ordeal.
“Lily was so poorly,” he said. “The chemotherapy hit her hard.
“She also contracted pneumonia, a strain which doctors said was the worst they had seen, after her lung collapsed.”
Lily faces a while on the sidelines yet before she is able to get back on her own two feet.
She will need more chemotherapy to ensure all the cancerous cells in her leg have been eradicated and also needs to regain the strength in her injured leg.
Bryan and Tori, who also have daughters, Jessy, five, and Ruby, two, have given up work to devote themselves to caring for their eldest daughter.
“It will be a while before Lily can walk independently as she has to build up the muscles again in her legs, but she is doing brilliantly.
“We are all so proud of her,” her mother added.
“She has never once moaned about being poorly.
“Lily’s an inspiration to us all and we can’t wait to get her back to normal.
“She’s our little fighter.”
Lily herself is making the most of the attention. “I think my leg is really great,” she said.
“I can’t walk on it right now but I will be able to in the future.
“I show my friends my leg and they think it’s amazing. It hurts a little but I’m really pleased.”