UK HealthCare

KCH, Shriners patient doesn’t miss a step with new prosthetics

image of Solomon Duncan holding one of his prosthetic legs
image of Solomon with his parents
image of Solomon balancing on his hands
image of prosthetist Eric Miller making adjustments to Solomon's prosthetics
image of Solo taking a few steps on supported by his mother
image of Solomon walking toward his father to give him a high-five

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 7, 2022) — Solomon Duncan is all smiles.

The 3-year-old from Knoxville peers down at his brand-new prosthetics. He happily points out his favorite parts, from the Mickey Mouse on the sockets to the green metallic joints. Holding his dad’s hands, he gingerly takes a few steps towards his mom.

“I can’t do it,” Solomon says.

“Don’t say ‘I can’t,'’’ says his dad Curt. “Say, ‘this is hard.'"

Solomon agrees it's hard, but he tries again. Today is a big day for him. For the first time in his life, he has knees. But he doesn’t quite know how they’re supposed to work.

Solomon, or “Solo” as his family calls him, was born with tibial hemimelia, a rare condition that left him without both tibia bones, knees, ankles, over half the bones in his feet and six toes. He’s also missing quite a few bones in his hands, leaving him with bilateral clefts.

Curt and his wife, Carolinem don’t know much about Solo’s life before he was surrendered to an orphanage in Tamil Nadu, in a small village in South India. Working with adoption agency Lifeline Children’s Services, the Duncans traveled to India in early 2020 to pick up Solomon and bring him home. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Shortly after their arrival, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, and the country went into a strict lockdown. Curt, Caroline, their two children and Caroline’s mother were confined to their hotel room for 28 days.

Once they were allowed to leave, they traveled to the remote village to meet Solo and spent a few days getting to know him. But the pandemic loomed in the background, and they had to leave India quickly to avoid getting trapped in another lockdown. They returned home to Knoxville where they researched hospitals for Solo.

“We looked at major hospitals all over the country,” Curt said. “So many of them couldn’t give Solo the care he needed or in a way that would work for our family. Shriners has been a godsend for our family, and we think it is so special how connected Shriners and KCH are. The staff at Shriners is what made us make the decision to move forward with care there, after seeing and having appointments at multiple major hospitals in the country. We live two and half hours away, but Shriners is worth the drive.”

Shriners Children’s Lexington and Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) have a unique partnership. Together, they are ranked in the Top 50 in the country for pediatric orthopedic care by U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals. While they are separate entities, they work closely together to provide seamless care for children and adolescents across Kentucky. A staff of board-certified pediatric orthopedic surgeons and anesthesiologists have cared for children at both institutions for over 35 years.

On Feb. 8, 2022, Solo had a double, through-the-knee amputation at KCH by Janet Walker, M.D. and Vincent Prusick, M.D.

“The staff were amazing, and the process was smooth, which was so helpful during such a stressful time for our family,” said Curt. “Post-surgery care was very intentional amidst an intense recovery for a child his age. Any complications we had from this difficult procedure were met with immediate call-backs, constant communication through email and regular checking up on us.”

When Solo’s legs healed from the surgery, it was time to be fitted with his first prosthetics at the Pediatric Orthotics and Prosthetics Services housed at Shriners Children’s Lexington. With new prosthetics, it can take two or three visits to get them properly fitted and placed. Depending on his growth, Solo could receive new ones every one to three years. However, Sept. 16, 2022, was the first time Solo could bend at the knees. While he’s still not quite sure how that works, he’s delighted to learn that he’ll be taller than his best friend Emerson.

“Solomon would have faced many ambulation challenges without receiving the bilateral prostheses,” said Eric Miller, Solo’s prosthetic specialist at Shriners. “In addition to allowing for a normal gait pattern, his prostheses allow him to be his ‘true’ anthropometric height. While often overlooked, height differences secondary to congenital deformities could have had both psychological and social implications for him.”

“Solo absolutely loves his prosthetics,” said Caroline. “They said he would only want to wear them three to five hours a day, but he wakes up asking for them and doesn’t take them off until night time — so about 10 to 12 hours per day. It has absolutely changed his life forever and will give him opportunities none of us ever dreamed of him having.”

“I have loved getting to know Solo and his family,” said Jennifer Rainwater, Solo’s nurse care manager at Shriners. “I’ve seen them endure through this journey and really thrive along the way. They have been resilient. They pushed Solomon to move forward, and he has accepted the challenge and has done exceedingly well. He is going to do great things and I am excited to see all that he will do in his life.”

Now Solo will be able to run, climb and keep up with his three sisters. He loves to play ball, wrestle and get eggs from the family chicken coop. On Oct. 8, he’ll join the UK football team on the Cat Walk as the Lift Them Up Kid of the Game. He’s been hard at work getting the hang of his new legs so he can show everyone how he can keep up with the big kids.

Of course, Curt and Caroline already know that. They can’t wait for the world to see what Solo can do.

“Solo has an incredible personality and does not give up,” Curt said. “He is a fighter and is determined to do whatever he puts his mind to. He is already doing headstands and flips and going to school. None of this would be possible without the amazing care from Kentucky Children’s Hospital and Shriners Children’s Lexington.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.