• U.S.

Medicine: Teddy’s Ordeal

4 minute read

Like other members of his family. Edward M. Kennedy Jr., 12, was highly competitive and athletic. He played on the football team at the Washington area’s exclusive St. Albans School, where he is in the seventh grade. He rafted down the Colorado River with his father, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, played a vigorous game of tennis on the family courts at McLean, Va., and skied at Sun Valley. Now young Teddy faces a drastic change in his lifestyle. Last week he was recovering from the amputation of his right leg above the knee —an operation made necessary by the discovery that he had a rare form of bone cancer.

Young Teddy’s ordeal began earlier this month when he told his father that his leg hurt and that there was a swelling below his knee. The Senator, who is chairman of the Subcommitee on Health, called a committee consultant, who in turn recommended a specialist:

Dr. George Hyatt, a professor of surgery at Georgetown University Hospital. Admitted to the hospital for a biopsy and other tests on a Friday morning, Teddy was examined, released for the weekend, and sent back to school the following Monday. But by Tuesday the results of the tests had come back from the lab; the youngster had chondrosarcoma, a fast-growing cancer of the cartilage. The recommended treatment: prompt amputation to prevent the disease from spreading.

Cancer, particularly leukemia, is the leading cause of death from disease in children, but bone tumors are relatively rare among the young. Of the 3,200 children under 15 who died of cancer in 1969 (the last year for which figures have been tabulated), only 178 had cancer of the bone. Although Teddy’s disease, chondrosarcoma, is one of the rarest of childhood bone cancers, it is one of the most controllable. Nearly 70% of its victims are alive ten years after they are treated. That figure compares favorably to the survival rate for osteosarcoma (primary bone cancer), which is only 23% after five years. In both diseases, however, survival is dependent on amputation as soon as possible after the cancer is detected.

Speedy Recovery. Once the decision was made, things moved swiftly. Teddy’s mother Joan was summoned home from Europe; the diagnosis and the fact that amputation was necessary were kept from the youngster until she arrived. Reporters who had learned of the boy’s condition were asked to delay publication of the news. “We didn’t want him to hear on the radio or see in the paper that he had cancer,” said a family friend. By the time a London newspaper broke the story and prompted its release in the U.S., the Kennedys and Dr. Hyatt had broken the news to Teddy Jr.

Friends say that the child took it well. “You could tell by the Senator’s reaction when it was over—he was a mirror of how the boy reacted,” said one Kennedy intimate. “He was grim but you could tell things had gone about as well as something like that can go.”

The hour-long operation, on the following Saturday morning, appeared to goequally well. Doctors cut back the skin, muscle and other tissue, sawed through the bone above the knee and then drew the remaining tissue down to form a well-padded stump. Teddy’s recovery seems to be going even better. A day after the operation, he left his bed briefly and read some of the thousands of letters and telegrams wishing him a speedy recovery.

Doctors will not say when Teddy will be fitted with an artificial leg. But the youngster is not waiting that long to learn how to get around. With the toughness characteristic of his clan, he reported to the hospital’s therapy unit last week, and with the aid of parallel bars and a temporary peg leg, began learning to walk again.

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