Katie was adopted from a Chinese orphanage at age 2 ½ by her mother Kim, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania police officer with two older daughters, also from China. When she was two months old, Katie was accidentally scalded in untested bath water, seriously burning her left leg and side. As she grew, Katie’s scars caused her leg and foot to become severely contracted. By the time Kim arrived in China, the contraction forced Katie to walk on her heel. Kim wasn’t deterred. “I had thought I’d adopt an infant, but when I met Katie, it just felt right,” she said.
When Kim brought Katie back in the U.S., they visited a pediatric hospital in Pittsburgh for assessment. Kim asked the plastic surgeon if he was a burn specialist, and he responded by saying that the surgery Katie required was a “simple release.” Kim consented, but after the procedure Katie’s toes were still contracted nearly on top of her foot. The surgeon’s recommendation was to amputate the toes. “He told me that removing them would provide a more ‘aesthetically pleasing foot,’” said Kim. “The next day, I called Shriners Hospitals for Children–Cincinnati.”
At their first appointment with Cincinnati Shriners Hospital, Kim was very concerned with her daughter’s future mobility; she saw Katie struggle with balance and feared she might still need to have toes removed. Chief of Staff Petra Warner, M.D., FACS listened as Kim shared the previous surgeon’s prognosis and responded, “Oh, please don’t let anyone cut off your baby’s toes!” She later explained, “In contraction cases, the toes can be pulled out of place, but restoring them usually isn’t complicated.” Kim was thrilled and relieved to hear the news. Dr. Warner proceeded with the surgery, and in a few days when the bandages were removed, Kim remembers being moved to tears. “I don’t usually like to use this word, but it was the first time her foot looked ‘normal’,” she said.
Katie is six now, and has had seven surgeries, four of which are considered major procedures– two on her foot and two on her left thigh. Pediatric burn injuries nearly always require multiple surgeries to release scar tissue as the child grows. Katie has also had laser treatments to smooth scarring.
As she gets older, Katie will need additional releases, but thankfully her mother made the call to Cincinnati Shriners Hospital. Because of the specialized burn expertise of Dr. Warner and her team, Katie’s toes were saved and she can now run and play like any other child.