‘No surgery date in sight’: Ontario child desperately needs help to stabilize leg

Grace Anstey, 9, has dislocated her knee six times in the last year and is in need of knee surgery that is proving to be hard to get. Supplied by Melanie Anstey

For nine-year-old Grace Anstey from Barrie, Ont., a cartwheel a year ago turned her life upside down, and it’s kept spinning ever since. Her family is desperate for a solution.

After the cartwheel, Grace, then aged eight, dislocated her knee, an injury doctors hoped would heal on its own. But for the once-active elementary school student, dislocating her knee is becoming the new normal.

Grace’s mom says her daughter is paralyzed by fear after a year with six significant dislocations and several minor ones from doing something as simple as walking up the stairs.

“She is struggling with … mental health with the scare of the pain that she keeps feeling when her knee dislocates. I’d say that would be the number one struggle right now, and no surgery date in sight,” Melanie Anstey says.

Grace’s mom says they were told that due to her multiple dislocations, Grace needs surgery. The only issue was where and who would do it.

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Grace Anstey, 9, with her family recovering after dislocating her knee.
Grace Anstey, 9, with her family recovering after dislocating her knee. Supplied by Melanie Anstey

The family was sent to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, which referred them to a specialist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

A letter obtained by Global News written by Grace’s physician at Sunnybrook says Grace needs a “soft tissue procedure” but that “Sick Kids is no longer allowing arthroscopic surgery in young people.”

“I do not think she is a candidate for guided growth, but unfortunately, things have not gone well, and although she is 9, 10 in August, she has had recurrent instability. She has had to go back onto crutches repeatedly. She has had to wear braces. She has very reduced functional capacity,” the letter reads.

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The letter from Grace’s doctor says the nine-year-old is being referred to other children’s hospitals in Hamilton and Ottawa, but Grace’s mom says that would mean needing to go through the consultation process with another doctor. Melanie says she does not blame Grace’s doctor, who is trying to find a hospital to do the surgery, but she does not understand why SickKids can’t help.

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“We were completely taken off guard because I don’t know why we would have ever seen somebody that could have never helped her in the first place, and now we are at an impasse because he has to now find a pediatric surgeon at other children’s hospitals,” Melanie says.

When asked about why Grace was unable to get the surgery at SickKids, a hospital spokesperson told Global News that the hospital “does perform surgeries associated with knee or kneecap instability or dislocation, but due to privacy reasons, we are not able to speak to specific cases.”

When asked if that included performing arthroscopic surgeries, the spokesperson did not respond.

The hospital would not answer any questions about why they referred Grace to a doctor in another hospital and why, if they offered surgeries for kids with knee dislocations, Grace could not get one.

Sunnybrook, the hospital where Grace’s doctor primarily works, has a minimum age restriction of 12 years old for this type of surgery.

“While we provide some neonatal and emergency pediatric care, Sunnybrook does not have a broader pediatric or pediatric surgery department and is not generally resourced or set up to provide the specialized pediatric surgical care that smaller children need. Smaller children require specialized expertise and equipment, and Sunnybrook doesn’t care for enough children to maintain that expertise across all team members,” a Sunnybrook spokesperson says in a statement to Global News.

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Grace Anstey, 9, on crutches after dislocating her knee.
Grace Anstey, 9, on crutches after dislocating her knee. Supplied by Melanie Anstey

When asked about the family’s case, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health told Global News the Ford government will continue to invest money into pediatric hospitals and work with them to “give them the support they need to address capacity pressures and prepare for the Fall.”

“We know hospital volumes have increased year over year, and we are not okay with the status quo,” the statement reads.

While so much is left unknown, Melanie says it is Grace who suffers.

Melanie says that due to Grace’s age and size, doctors say she needs to get walking again after each dislocation to not impact her leg’s growth, but without surgery, injury is inventible.

“We try to get her walking as fast as we possibly can, but Grace is a very smart girl, and when we go to physiotherapy to try to get her walking after each dislocation, she makes it very clear that if she stays off of her knee, she won’t feel that pain again. If she comes off the crutches and starts walking again, she’s just going to dislocate and feel that pain,” Melanie says.

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“She goes to bed every night crying because she is just terrified of putting any weight on her leg, and she knows what the consequence will be and the pain that she’ll feel.”

The active nine-year-old who loved soccer and track and field now shies away from all forms of physical activity for fear of what will happen.

“It makes me feel really sad and left out,” Grace tells Global News.

“It kept dislocating, and it always happened when I wasn’t really doing anything. So I’ve been on crutches for a long time, for this year, basically, and at school, I’ve always had to stay in for recess and always had to be at the office because I can’t do what my friends are doing.”

Grace was quick to answer when asked what she is most looking forward to doing if her knee gets fixed.

“Playing soccer and running and playing with my friends,” she says.

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