Ankeny, IA

Michaela Inman had just made a competitive gymnastics team. She was spending more time in the gym and running frequently. So when she began complaining of pain in her right ankle in May 2011, Michaela’s parents and local pediatrician thought it was nothing more than a sprain.

But after an MRI and multiple X-rays, Michaela’s doctor called. “I’m not going to ask you if you want a second opinion, I’m going to tell you,” he said. “You need to go to Iowa City.”

The Inmans were referred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital orthopedic surgeon Jose Morcuende, MD, PhD. A biopsy was scheduled for December 2011 to determine what was causing Michaela’s ankle pain.

Less than two weeks later, parents Chris and Jenny received the phone call that changed their family’s lives forever: Michaela had Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of childhood bone cancer.

“It was the worst news possible, and I felt an immediate sense of panic,” says Jenny.

Morcuende had a plan, however. A UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital oncologist was ready to answer everyone’s questions, and Michaela’s doctors collaborated with a local hospital so she could complete chemotherapy closer to home.

Treatment started two days after Christmas. Michaela underwent six rounds of chemotherapy to kill as many cancer cells as possible. Afterward, Morcuende focused on saving Michaela’s leg.

The purpose of a limb salvage surgery is to remove any bone with cancer cells and replace it with a bone from a deceased donor. Once in place, the bone takes about two years to become fully stable. Shortly after surgery, Ewing’s sarcoma requires an additional 11 rounds of chemotherapy to complete treatment.

“Dr. Morcuende spent I don’t know how many hours talking to us and making sure we understood what was happening, what to expect, and what to expect going forward,” says Chris. “He never once acted like we were taking too much of his time.”

The Inmans are thankful for Morcuende’s skill and the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital staff for their compassion and dedication to helping their daughter. “He discovered Michaela’s cancer. Then he had a plan to stop it, and then he took it out of her,” says Jenny. “He made her whole.”

Today, Michaela is a high school freshman and 10 months cancer-free. She now focuses on “paying it forward” by raising funds for other children with cancer.

“We’re at the point today that I didn’t know we’d ever get to,” Jenny says. “There’s a real sense of peace, that somebody had control over what felt like a very uncontrollable situation.”

After overcoming so much, Michaela is back to living life with few limitations. She completed almost everything on her summer “bucket list,” including sleeping in a tent and running a mile.

“These kids get up every day. They’re not asked, ‘Do you want to go in and fight for your life today?’” Jenny says. “Now, there’s such a new appreciation for the simple, normal things in life.”

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