Reported October 28, 2008

Mystery Bones

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire)

-- Doctors don't fully understand how our bones heal after a break or fracture.

It's a medical mystery that translates into a very painful recovery for up to 25 percent of people involved in bad car crashes and other traumatic events. To solve the mystery, researchers are making the topic of bone growth a priority.

Melanie Johnson and her 10-year-old son Austin enjoy the little pleasures. They know how quickly life can change.

On Christmas day, a short drive to grandma's turned into a nightmare.

"I saw the 18-wheeler coming," Austin told Ivanhoe.

The Johnsons were crushed, trapped -- and terrified.

"I could see that my legs weren't really attached to my body any longer," Melanie told Ivanhoe.

Austin broke his leg, but Melanie suffered the worst injures -- half a dozen broken bones that shattered the lower half of her body. During recovery, Melanie’s bones actually healed too much. The result was extra bone growth that became painful.

Extra bone growth, or heterotopic ossification, is seen in up to 25 percent of trauma patients. A staggering 63 percent of injured soldiers also have the condition. The problem is doctors don’t understand how to turn the body’s bone-healing cells on or off.

"If we were able to predict it, we might be able to use preventative measures to stop it from forming," Erika Mitchell, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., told Ivanhoe.

The only solution now is a painful surgery or radiation. Dr. Mitchell wants to change that. She’s spending the next three years looking for a genetic connection and investigating the biology of bones -- which could lead to treatments.

"In which case, we can help bones that don't grow," Dr. Mitchell said.

After several surgeries, Melanie is now able to play with her son. She’s grateful to be active, but hopes experts find a way to prevent others from years of painful recovery.