2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Announcement Event

Kaiser Permanente: Young Cancer Survivor Takes Center Court

“I wanted to play basketball, play with my friends, go to school — just be a normal kid,” said Christopher Formaker, when told of his cancer.

Christopher Formaker and his Kaiser Permanente (No. 1 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) physicians, nurses and child life specialists stole the show during a recent Sacramento Kings game. They received a standing ovation from fans after Christopher and his family reunited with his care team in a center court ceremony that’s a feature of Kaiser Permanente’s partnership with the Kings.

When he was 8 years old, Christopher’s mom Susan noticed unusual swelling in his leg. Always active, Christopher was never one to complain, but Susan knew something wasn’t right.

The next day, Christopher’s father, Jesse, brought him to Kaiser Permanente. Right away, his doctors ordered tests and then confirmed that Christopher had osteosarcoma in his leg bone, a form of cancer that can be resistant to radiation therapy.

“I wanted to play basketball, play with my friends, go to school — just be a normal kid,” said Christopher, when told of his cancer. “And, I was kind of sad.”

A rare and complex surgery

To rid the cancer from Christopher’s body, he would not only undergo several rounds of chemotherapy, but his leg would be amputated just above the knee.

“When there’s a question about a leg and a life, the leg becomes irrelevant,” Jesse said, reflecting on his thoughts after he was told his son’s leg would need to be removed.

After reviewing the case, Lawrence Manhart, MD, Pediatric Rehabilitation, Roseville, California, presented a rare and complex surgical procedure to Christopher and his parents. Called the Van Nes Rotationplasty, the procedure is offered to young, active kids as a way to allow better use of a prosthesis after amputation.

Rotationplasty involves reattaching the patient’s ankle and foot to the thigh bone and rotating them 180 degrees to serve as a knee joint.

It’s estimated that the procedure is done less than 80 times each year nationwide, with only a few physicians qualified to perform the surgery.

“Kaiser Permanente selected to work with Larry Rinsky, MD, Orthopedic Surgery at Stanford on this procedure,” said Dr. Manhart. Two Kaiser Permanente physicians, Lee Jae Morse, MD, Musculoskeletal Oncology and Orthopedic Surgery, Oakland, California, and Andrew Fang, MD, Orthopedics, South San Francisco, participated in the surgery with Dr. Rinsky.

‘I can shoot, I can dribble, I can do anything’

“He’s at the point now where he’s doing well enough that physical therapy is starting to back off and just let him live his own life,” added Dr. Manhart. “The exciting part of my job is actually seeing the kids like Christopher back out there living their lives.”

Now 10 years old, Christopher has completed his cancer therapy with no evidence of disease. Kaiser Permanente providers will continue to monitor him to ensure his cancer doesn’t return.

“We are still here today, together as a family, and we couldn’t be more grateful,” said Jesse.

“I can shoot, I can dribble around, I can do anything that I could before I was diagnosed,” said Christopher.

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