Madalin Wixson is sports minded. Always has been, and probably always will be.
In December 2017, as the 10-year-old played indoor floor hockey, she collided with a little boy, who came down on her knee.
“My pain was sharp,” Madalin said. “It felt like being stabbed with a bunch of needles at the same time.”
Madalin’s mom, Stacy Wixson, said her daughter reported hearing a ‘pop.’
“Her knee swelled up,” Stacy said.
A doctor near their Battle Creek, Michigan, home ordered an X-ray, then later, an MRI.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t just a sports injury. The scans showed a bone tumor. The doctor referred Madalin to Matthew Steensma, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group orthopedic oncologist.
The family met with Dr. Steensma.
“Madalin developed a benign bone tumor called an osteochondroma,” Dr. Steensma said. “Osteochondromas are thought to be caused by mutations that occur in children’s growth plates. They typically grow off the surface of the bone, entrapping muscle fibers or tendons.”
Osteochondromas affect about 1 out of 100,000 people, according to Dr. Steensma.
He recommended surgery. Because of Madalin’s rigorous sports schedule, the family decided to wait until summer.
“Because it wasn’t causing her a whole lot of grief at that moment, we decided to wait until school was out to have surgery,” Stacy said. “In that time, she had grown a foot.”
A foot. In roughly six months.
Her body rebelled.
“It caused a lot of pain because it was rubbing on her hamstring muscle,” Stacy said.
The night of July 11, the Wixson family stayed overnight in the Spectrum Health Renucci Hospitality House.
“The staff was absolutely incredible,” Stacy said. “You get treated like family.”
First thing the next morning, and first on the surgery docket, Dr. Steensma removed Madalin’s bone tumor and sent it to the pathology lab.
Despite some tense moments waiting and wondering, the test results came back negative for cancer.
“They confirmed that it was not cancerous and we learned that this is more common in people than what we realize,” Stacy said. “It’s like a piece of cartilage or bone that breaks or splinters where the growth plate is. It fused to the outside of her femur. Because it was attached to cartilage, as she grew, it grew.”
Dr. Steensma compared it to a slow-cooked pot roast.
“If you put your fingers in a roast, the fibers separate,” she said. “That’s what her tumor was doing with her muscle fibers. As she was growing, that seemed to be a spot that was very tender for her until she had it removed.”
After surgery, Madalin hesitated to put weight on her leg.
“For the first week or so, she was nervous about that,” Stacy said.
Two weeks out from surgery, Madalin had a video conference call on the Spectrum Health app with Dr. Steensma’s staff. Which meant instead of driving from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids, Madalin and her family could consult with providers over a web-based connection.
That means no time off from school for Madalin, and no long car ride for the family.
“That was amazing,” Stacy said of the Spectrum Health app consultation. “It was convenient because we were living an hour and a half away. It was a lot better than having to drive up and drive back.”
That was a week before school started. Madalin is now happily settled into fifth grade and heavily involved in sports.
“I like playing sports because I like to be active and I have lots of friends that I made along the way,” Madalin said. “Sliding in softball and shooting for basketball are my favorite parts of playing. I love how others have good sportsmanship, whether you win or lose.”
She’s playing basketball now, after finishing up soccer.
“She is doing great,” Stacy said. “She’s an active child, which I’m very thankful for. She’s glad that she had the surgery. Dr. Steensma explained it’s like a pebble in your shoe. It’s small enough that it creates enough of an annoyance that you want it out of there. I’m glad we did it, too, especially because of how much she’s grown and how much of a discomfort it was causing before she got the tumor removed.”
Besides basketball and soccer, Madalin enjoys jazz dance classes and playing with her 6-year-old sister, Taylor.
“I’m thankful they’re not into video games and cell phones,” Stacy said. “They want to be outside and want to be active. That’s how I grew up. We didn’t have a cell phone. The TV wasn’t supposed to be on. We were supposed to be outside.”
Her children are following Stacy’s non-electronic footsteps. Taylor dances and plays soccer.
Madalin started dance classes at age 4, T-ball and soccer at age 5.
“As she got older, she wanted to experience more sports to see what she really liked so she could be passionate about something,” Stacy said. “I think basketball and softball are going to be those passionate sports.”
Madalin has another passion these days, stoked by her medical journey.
“I want to be a nurse when I grow up,” she said. “I like to help and serve others. It’s a good feeling.”