Teen hopeful hip surgery will succeed Baltimore Co. youth faces transplant, if money can be raised.

March 29, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

Like any mother, Michelec Kehl of Bowleys Quarters wants her son, Jonathan, to be a normal, growing teen-ager -- one who can run, jump and revel in the excitement of rough-and-tumble sports.

Until 1 1/2 years ago, Jonathan, 15, could do all this and more. Then, in August 1989, on the first family vacation in five years, he fractured his left hip in a water-skiing accident in Harford County.

He's had surgery that did not work and has been diagnosed as having avascular osteo necrosis, or bone death, which is caused by a lack of blood flowing into his hip. He has spent most of the past two years on crutches.

This is the bone disease that many orthopedic specialists here and across the country speculate led the Kansas City Royals baseball team earlier this month to release Bo Jackson, one of the world's most celebrated athletes, from his $2.3 million contract.

When doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital told Michelec Kehl, 36, last December that her son's condition was growing worse and that his hip was beginning to collapse, she sprang into action.

"There has to be something that will help this child," she said over and over to herself and to everyone she met, she recalled yesterday.

A gynecologist she had known a long time pointed her in the direction of Dr. David S. Hungerford, an orthopedic surgeon and an expert on avascular osteo necrosis at Good Samaritan Hospital.

No doctor in this country could help Jonathan, Hungerford told the teen-ager's mother, unless she was willing to settle for a bone fusion, which would result in limited use of the leg. She was not.

In that case, Hungerford said, Kehl's son would need a hip transplant -- a hip joint that, like a heart or liver transplant, would come from a donor about his age and size who had died in a car crash or other traumatic incident. He sent Michelec Kehl; her husband, Edward, 38; and Jonathan to Toronto, where they had their first consultation with Dr. Allan Gross in February.

On April 10, the Kehls and Jonathan, one of their four children, will travel once again to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. There, Jonathan will undergo the first of two operations within this year.

"The procedure is experimental. Dr. Gross has only done four hip transplants so far, although he has done many knee transplants," Kehl said. "He said Jonathan is a good candidate." Gross, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Asked about the outcomes of his patients, Michelec Kehl said Gross described one as excellent, one as good, one as fair and the other as poor and requiring a fusion. Even if Jonathan would require a fusion, the Toronto orthopedist thinks he "can give Jonathan a very good leg," she said.

Gross has waived his surgeon's fee for both operations -- the initial limb-lengthening procedure will be followed three to four months later by the actual transplant.

But Jonathan's name cannot even be placed on the list of people awaiting a donor until enough money is raised to meet all the anticipated costs -- one day in the Toronto hospital costs $2,000. Jonathan's mother estimates that the family will need $10,000 for the first procedure and another $18,000 for the actual transplant.

The 1989 tragedy hit the family while it was between insurance plans. The Kehls were dropping Blue Cross and moving toward signing with the Johns Hopkins Health Plan. They remain uninsured.

Even if they were insured, Michelec Kehl doubts that anyone would cover the expenses connected with the hip transplant since it is so experimental.

Jonathan's family already has laid out thousands of dollars toward his recovery, but now they need the help of others.

"We're running on burnt energy," says Michelec Kehl. "The dirty clothes are piling up. I'm only able to open my stained-glass shop by appointment. We will do everything in our power to raise this money to help our son walk again.

"My neighbors and friends have been wonderful. We're holding bake sales every weekend. Even the husbands have been helping us make homemade Easter candy for weekend sales. We're holding a raffle and dance on April 26 at Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department Hall."

Jonathan, who with his friends' support still leads an active life, is a sophomore at Eastern Vocational-Technical High School. He's majoring in machine shop so he can become a machinist.

A polite, 5-foot, 11-inch teen, Jonathan said, "I'm excited about the procedure that's coming up. It's supposed to lengthen my left leg, which is about one-half inch shorter than my right leg."

The past 1 1/2 years have been rough but not unbearable, he said, thanks to "strong support" from his friends and family.

The Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association has established the Jonathan Kehl Medical Fund to help with his medical expenses. Those wishing to help may send a contribution to P.O Box 5062, Baltimore, 21220.

If there is any money left over after Jonathan's bills are paid, Michelec Kehl promises to start a second fund earmarked for avascular osteo necrosis research, hoping to spur more interest in hip transplants in this country.

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