Surgeon helps 4-year old sidelined by hip pain

Jackson Clifton is 7.  But the Alpharetta first-grader is already a multi-sport athlete.

"So, Jackson is in baseball, that was his first love," his mother Kendra Clifton says.  "He made the all-star team.

He's in basketball, football, he's trying lacrosse this season." 

Oh, and Jackson has been skiing with his family since he was 3.

"Last year, we went to Breckenridge," his mom says. "We usually hit Colorado, all over."

Whatever Jackson does, he's all-in. 

But in February of 2016, when Jackson was just 4 and a half, Kendra Clifton noticed something was off.

"So, for weeks, Jackson had been complaining of hip pain," she says.

Jackson's parents thought it was just growing pains.

 But then, something unexpected happened.

"The day before we were supposed to go skiing, he fell," Kendra Clifton says.  "It was right before school. He felt to the ground and said, 'I can't walk.'"

At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, an MRI revealed why.

Jackson had a one-inch mass in his hip joint. 

All Kendra Clifton could think was, "cancer."

"100%, yeah," She remembers thinking.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta orthopedic surgeon Dr. Cliff Willimon says, fortunately, Jackson's tumor was benign, or non-cancerous.

Willimon diagnosed him with pigmented villonodular synovitis (PVNS), a joint disease caused by an overgrowth in the lining of the joints.

It usually occurs in the hip or knee joints.

But PVNS can also affect the shoulders, ankles, hands, elbows or feet.

"It's a gradual increase in pain in the hip, or the knee or another joint," Willimon explains.

Typically, PVNS is discovered in young adults.

"What makes Jackson's case so rare is that he's one of youngest kids to ever have PVNS," Kendra Clifton says.

Dr. Willimon says the disease is benign, but it can cause some major complications.

"And the problem is, once it gets really bad, the cartilage of the joint is damaged beyond repair," Willimon explains.  "And, that's a really tough problem for a young person."

Willimon was able to help.

Usually, removing a tumor like this would involve a major operation, to open up the joint and take the mass out.

That would be a lot for a 4-year old. 

But Dr. Willimon was able to perform a much less invasive arthroscopic, or keyhole, surgery.

 "That's where we place a small camera into the hip and resect it," he says.

Jackson went home the same day of his procedure, with three small scars and no complications.

Two and a half years later, he's is back in the game, more active than ever.

And Kendra Clifton says she couldn't be more grateful.

"Just thank you to everybody that helped my baby," Clifton says.  "You really count your blessings."