Posted on May 16, 2023

Teen Cancer Survivor Walks again with Advanced Prosthetic Design

In February 2022, 15-year-old Mattox Williams, of St. Joseph, had an unexplainable pain in his left leg.

His pediatrician had an uneasy feeling about it – opting to skip the red tape of 12 weeks of physical therapy and instead ordered an MRI.

“We went in for the MRI,” explained Mattox’s mom, Amber. “And we didn’t expect anything. We were worried there would be a little break in Mattox’s leg, or a torn ligament he’d have to recover from.”

Braving an unexpected diagnosis

They never expected the news that followed. The MRI revealed the source of pain – a large mass that would be diagnosed as osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

Three months later, Mattox underwent a hemipelvectomy at Mayo Clinic – a surgery in which his left leg and part of his pelvis were amputated. The surgery was a success, but doctors believed he would never walk again.

Mattox was determined to come back strong. He spent hours researching prosthetics and seeing adults walk using a specially-designed prosthetic gave him hope.

“He was going to walk again,” said Amber. “Watching videos of adults with these prosthetics and the available technology was the light at the end of the tunnel for him.”


Walking again after a hemipelvectomy

The potential of walking again kept Mattox motivated during his recovery, and our Orthopedics & Prosthetics + Bionics teams in St. Joseph and Grand Rapids were determined to help.

The team of expert clinicians started working with Mattox and his family in late August in hopes of delivering a custom prosthesis for Christmas. At the time, he was undergoing cancer treatment at University of Michigan Motts Children’s hospital.

Just when the Williams family thought treatment was complete, Mattox’s doctors discovered another tumor. The family learned Mattox’s cancer had spread to areas of the spine and would need more chemotherapy. Doctors weren’t sure if he would survive.

Mary Free Bed O&P+B teams collaborated to complete Mattox’s new prosthesis as quickly as possible. The advanced prosthesis design and technology would need to compensate for foot, knee and pelvic motion.

“There’s a lot of art and creativity that goes into everything we build,” said Dan Malach, Mary Free Bed certified prosthetist. “In Mattox’s case, there was a significant amount of joint movement the design needed to account for.”

Cancer survival and the road to recovery

On December 23, Mattox got his wish – a custom new prosthesis designed just for him. He finally got the mobility boost he’d been patiently waiting for.

“Mary Free Bed made this huge effort to ensure this kid would walk again – whether it was for years or just a week,” said Amber.

Recently, doctors shared the greatest news imaginable. Mattox’s cancer has completely and unexplainably disappeared.

He’s now on his way to recovery. And after his own experience with the power of prosthetics, Mattox believes he might even be on his way to a future in prosthetics himself.

Watch the video to hear from Mattox, his mom and the Mary Free Bed O&P+B team.