When Parker Kress learned last October that an infection in his once-cancerous leg had disappeared, and that he no longer needed part of his limb amputated, it seemed too good to be true.
Parker’s doctor called him “lucky” that antibiotics and surgery did the trick, but the usually optimistic teen felt just the opposite, and slipped into a state of depression.
Unable to run and play sports since April 2015, when physicians removed a tumor from his right leg and installed metal implants and an allograft bone in its place, Parker thought the additional surgery would have turned things around.
“I couldn’t have a hobby,” said Parker, a freshman at Pleasant Valley High School. “Sports were always my hobby and I couldn’t do those, so I kind of just didn’t know who I was.”
He later learned, however, that bacteria may never have cleared from his leg, and another debilitating infection surfaced in February. Last week, the 15-year-old opted to undergo a through-knee amputation, which left his kneecap and thigh untouched.
‘Dude, where’s my leg?’
Dr. Benjamin Miller, Parker’s orthopedic surgeon at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, who diagnosed the teen two years ago with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma, performed the operation last Tuesday.
Just 10 percent of sarcoma cases they see in Iowa City require amputations, said Miller, who noted the through-knee technique avoids cutting bone or muscle tissue and creates a surface that can bear weight and support a prosthesis.
“Parker very clearly prioritized a definitive surgery that would allow him to return to a high level of function with minimal chance of further complications,” Miller wrote in an email. “With these goals in mind, this surgery will deliver him a very predictable result, and I fully expect to see him return to sports and other activities.”
At his home this week in Bettendorf, Parker, whose leg is swathed with bandages, said he is experiencing residual, or “phantom,” sensations.
“It’s mostly in my foot, but yeah, I can still feel it,” he said. “I thought there would be a lot of pain with it, too, but there’s been like none.”
Parker’s mother, Kristin Dumser, said she expected him to “park on the couch” when they returned home last Friday.
But Parker proved her wrong.
“He was up and down stairs the day we got home,” she said. “It might be an inconvenience, but he’s not letting it hold him back.”
Since his original diagnosis, Parker’s positive outlook and perspective on life has kept his family’s spirits high.
“He said to me, ‘it’s just the leg,’ ” Dumser said. “We’ve gotten to know a lot of families who have had kids pass way from cancer, and when you look at the big picture, he’s still here.”
One of Parker’s new favorite T-shirts, which reads, “Dude, where’s my leg?” says a lot about his laid-back…