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Local doctors perform unique surgery to save a boy's life and dreams

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Local doctors perform unique surgery to save a boy's life and dreams

By Stephanie Graham, Carole Meekins. CREATED Nov 21, 2013 - UPDATED: Nov 21, 2013

MILWAUKEE - It all started earlier this year for 9-year-old Sean Johnson. Sean was in pain.

His dad Don explains, "We figured it was just growing pains."

Doctors eventually told Sean and his parents the worst possible news. Sean had osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. Sean's mom Erin recalls, "I'll never forget saying to him, I said, 'Will we have our child in a year from now?' and it's one of those things that you never want to think about."

Sean went through intensive chemotherapy. He admits he didn't like it. "I don't like the color of it--it's like a weird color, and it smells funky."

Part of Sean's coping mechanism was to treat his tumor like one of the bad guys in the video games he loves to play. He told his nurses he named his tumor 'Throwg'. Erin says, "They're like, you named it? Are you attached to this tumor? He's like , 'No, Throwg's goin down'.. right? Throwg went down."

Dr. J.C. Neilsen is an orthopedic surgeon at Froedtert, Children's Hospital, and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In order to make sure the cancer is gone for good, Dr. Neilsen and his team had to amputate Sean's lower right leg.

"You must remove the area where the osteosarcoma starts at, or it will come back," Dr. Neilsen says.

Sean and his parents decided to undergo a somewhat rare rotationplasty procedure. Dr. Neilsen explains, "Which allows him to function like any patient with a below knee amputation."

The lower part of the upper leg is removed, and the healthy ankle and foot are rotated and reattached, becoming Sean's new knee joint!

"It's almost unbelievable for people who've never heard of it before," Dr. Neilsen admits.

Sean chose rotationplasty because it gives him the best chance to be an active, normal kid. "It means a lot because I can walk around again, and do stuff with my brothers."

We were there when Sean took his first couple steps on his new prosthesis. It was difficult, but Sean did it! That was a few weeks ago.

We visited Sean and his family a couple weeks later. He is quickly learning to walk again.

"It just feels good to do it again," he says.

The whole family is getting back to a new normal.

"He gets up and gets his day going, he just conquers his life," Erin says.

Sean adds, "I just do it, I don't think. I just do it."