Kari Kamin’s story is about medical science, about team and technology converging to deliver a nearly unimaginable solution.

It is also about human determination, about a woman with the grit and courage to undergo a complex treatment to save limb and, possibly, life.

In April 2021, Kari and her husband, Adam, were celebrating Kari’s 31st birthday in Door County.

“After a walk, I started getting pain down my left leg,” she said. “I thought it was run-of-the-mill sciatica, which I had in high school from carrying around a heavy backpack.”

The pain worsened and by the end of May, Kari was limping noticeably. She tried stretching, chiropractic care, physical therapy and even crutches, hoping to avoid X-rays because she and Adam wanted to conceive. Finally, in October 2021, her weakened leg gave out as she was stepping from the shower.

“My mom took me to an urgent care for an X-ray,” Kari said. “They were going to send me home with painkillers, and then the radiologist came in and said, ‘You have cancer.’ It was so shocking and unbelievable.”

Osteosarcoma Compressed Nerves and Destroyed Bone Tissue

At the strong urging of caregivers, Kari came to the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network for treatment. She saw David King, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and MCW faculty member, who assembled a multidisciplinary team that included John Charlson, MD, medical oncologist and MCW faculty member, and John C. Neilson, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and MCW faculty member.

“We treat all types of sarcoma in our program,” Dr. Neilson said. Sarcoma represents a broad group of cancers that start in the bones and soft tissues. Kari had a malignant tumor of the bone that compressed her nerves and destroyed her bone tissue as it grew.

“Kari had a localized osteosarcoma of the left hip, extending to the sacroiliac joint,” Dr. Charlson said. “This is a rare cancer and the standard treatment is a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and then a second round of chemotherapy.”

The team did not sugarcoat the challenge.

“They gave me the general plan and said, ‘Call in the troops and build your community around you,’” Kari said. “You will need all the support you can get. It’s tough but doable.’

“‘Tough but doable’ is a phrase I clung to.”

Specialized Treatment to Decrease Tumor

Kari and Adam moved to an apartment in Wauwatosa to be near Froedtert Hospital. She quit her job to make time for treatment. The couple also consulted with Stephanie Gunderson, MD, reproductive medicine physician, OB/GYN and MCW faculty member, about reproductive options.

Kari received chemotherapy at the Day Hospital at the Clinical Cancer Center on the Froedtert Hospital campus, a specialized treatment environment that allows patients who need more complex infusions to return home after therapy without being hospitalized.

“Kari had such a good response to the chemotherapy, eliminating 90% of the tumor, that I felt she would be a candidate for surgical reconstruction,” Dr. Neilson said. “This is our first choice for most patients.”

Surgery to Implant Titanium Pelvis

The surgeons removed the cancer in the bone and rebuilt Kari’s hip in May 2022 using a 3D-printed implant of titanium, custom-made for Kari’s anatomy from MRI and CT scans.

“This was an extensive operation, with Dr. King and I working from opposite sides of the pelvis,” Dr. Neilson said. “We used a robotic-like navigation tool to guide us in removing the cancer so that the prosthesis fit precisely. We anchored it with pegs and screws that will naturally integrate with the remaining pelvis bone. We also incorporated a hip replacement femoral stem and attached muscles to eyelets in the implant.”

The surgery took almost 14 hours.

“After surgery, I remember my mom and husband being there and my mom was crying, not in a bad way, but because she was so glad to see me,” Kari said. “I asked about my reproductive organs and was told everything was in order!”

Road to Recovery After Sarcoma

Kari began physical therapy using a wheelchair and a walker and resumed chemotherapy in August 2022.

“It wasn’t until October that I started to use crutches,” she said. “After chemotherapy, once I got the all-clear to start putting weight on the leg, things progressed quickly and now I’m just using a cane.”

Active hikers prior to the cancer diagnosis, Kari and Adam are planning a return trip to Door County.

“It will be a special, full-circle moment, because it was there I first started to feel the leg pain,” Kari said. “I don’t know how far I’ll get, but I will get outside.”

“She’ll continue to improve functionally over the next two to three years as her brain and muscles figure out the new anatomy,” Dr. King said. “She’s a remarkable woman, and we admire her strength.”

Froedtert & MCW Bone Metastasis Program experts offer advanced diagnostics and treatment options, including clinical trials. Learn more at froedtert.com/sarcoma.