12-year-old strong-arms her bone cancer

An X-ray of Savannah Partridge's reconstructed arm is shown in a photograph on her father's phone. (Jessie Wardarski/Post-Gazette)

Canon-McMillan sixth-grader ignores the odds to take control of her cancer

When Savannah Partridge of North Strabane was diagnosed on Jan. 24, 2016, with stage IV osteosarcoma in the bone of the upper right arm, the odds were against her.

Just 8 at the time, she soldiered her way through 29 rounds of chemotherapy and six surgeries, all in 10 months at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Kurt Weiss, a UPMC oncological surgeon who also does osteosarcoma research, performed the most extensive surgery that April by using one of her fibula bones, the thinnest leg bone from knee to ankle, to replace the destroyed humerus bone, which extends from the shoulder to elbow. It represented one of the first bone reassignment surgeries of that kind.

“In simplest terms, her knee is now her shoulder,” said Sharon Partridge, Savannah’s mom.

Savannah, 12, uses her right hand to write about her favorite animal, the fox, while sitting on her bed in North Strabane. Doctors reconstructed her right arm using her fibula, a leg bone. The scar on her arm is visible in this picture. (Jessie Wardarski/Post-Gazette)

For nearly all of 2016, Ms. Partridge and Savannah lived at Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville. Her husband Bill, she said, missed work and Savannah’s brother, Dylan, also was “put through the wringer.”

And assisting Savannah, now 12, through one treatment after another, including the many surgeries, took considerable toll on Ms. Partridge.

“I have been formally diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder] because of this, and I get panic attacks when going back to the hospital for her quarterly scans,” she said. “I don’t do well at scan time, and that’s coming up in two weeks.” That scan earlier this year showed no cancer.

Sharon Partridge, left, tells a story as she and her daughter, Savannah, discuss Savannah’s osteosarcoma diagnosis and reconstructive arm surgery. (Jessie Wardarski/Post-Gazette)

Savannah is one of many children in the Canon-McMillan School District who has been diagnosed with rare cancers.

“The gravity of what this little girl has overcome — a tumor that encased the biceps and triceps and five inches of the radial nerve — were all sacrificed to the tumor,” Ms. Partridge said. “Not only did she have to relearn how to walk after being in a wheelchair for 10 months, but she had to undergo therapy to try to reuse what is left of her arm.”

Dr. Weiss said he became a big fan of Savannah’s, given her unwavering positive attitude and the energy she has devoted to fighting her cancer.

After all the surgeries and bone replacement, doctors told Ms. Partridge that Savannah would have only limited use of the arm — and never be able to play the piano.

Using that as a challenge, Savannah began piano lessons in October, and the teacher said she’s one of best and fastest learners the teacher has ever had,” said Ms. Partridge.

(Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)

“I really like art, and I like band and music,” Savannah said recently. “I play clarinet and take piano lessons and love to sing. I like drawing, sketching, painting and coloring” — and her mother added, “making a mess.”

There’s been no relapse of cancer for more than two years. Reaching five years is key to being designated as cancer free.

Ms. Partridge said her daughter is nothing short of “a miracle — a gift from God.”

After Savannah had her arm reconstructed as a result of cancer she was told she would have limited use of the arm and never be able to play the piano. However, she now takes piano lessons, plays the clarinet, writes with her right hand and is making progress with physical therapy. Here she laughs while practicing a new song with her piano instructor, Tiffany Howard, at David’s Music House in Peters. (Jessie Wardarski/Post-Gazette)

David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578. Twitter: @templetoons.


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