Doctors save girl's knee using her ankle

X-rays on Delaney Unger's left knee revealed it wasn't an injury. Instead doctors at Stony Brook Medicine diagnosed her with bone cancer known as Osteosarcoma - so rare there are only 500-1000 new cases each year.

"We figured it was just a dance injury, she was sore," said Melissa Unger, Delaney’s mom. "Something like that."

"I was so scared obviously but I was honestly more worried of the fact that I was going to lose my hair," said Delaney Unger.

Doctors orders - months of intense chemotherapy before and after a 13-hour surgery to remove the entire cancer.   Most people opt for a knee replacement but it wasn't the best option for Delaney who was just 11-years-old at the time with her whole life ahead of her. 

"I just kept doing what I was supposed to, by taking medicine and listening to doctors and stuff and even if I wanted to do something and they said I couldn’t I wouldn’t because it would make it worse and I wouldn’t be able to dance again," she said. 

It's called a Van Ness Rotationplasty - actually taking the ankle and rotating it 180 degrees backwards to make a new knee. Delaney was the second surgery they've done at Stony Brook. It's very rare but a game changer when it comes to quality of life.

"My calf is the front of my leg now and my heel is my knee and the ankle is the knee joint, my the foot is the bottom part of my leg."

"It allowed us to get rid of the cancer completely but still allowed her do anything she wants like dance, surfing literally anything without any restrictions and not having to worry whatever we put in may not last a lifetime," said Dr. Fazel Khan, Asst. Prof of Orthopedic Surgery with Stony Brook Medicine.

Doctors say placing the ankle joint where her knee would be created more of a natural bend for someone who is active like Delaney. August marked her first year cancer free ... she's already performing in recitals and plans to try out for her school's kick line team later this year.

Delaney hopes to one day become a pediatric oncologist to save other children's lives the way doctors saved hers.

"When you're having a bad day or you’re stuck in traffic, getting annoyed with something and you say 'Woah, just look at what my daughter went through'," said Melissa Unger. "It puts things in perspective."