A two-year-old girl, who was born with an extra leg protruding out of her back, underwent a corrective procedure at the state-run Govind Ballabh Pant hospital in the last week of January.
“The surgery is not very complicated, but, the condition called polymelia in which a person is born with more than four limbs is very rare. Despite our patient load, we haven’t seen such a case in the past 50 years,” said Dr Daljit Singh, the lead surgeon.
In fact, only four cases of polymelia have been recorded across the world, with one reported from Bihar, where a girl was born with four hands and four legs.
“There are two accepted hypotheses as to why polymelia occurs. Sometimes an embroyo starts developing as conjoined twins and one twin is disintegrated except for just the extra limbs. Or, in other cases, extra number of limb buds, from which our hands and legs grow, start developing due to an anomaly and give rise to additional limbs,” Dr Singh said.
Varsha Sena was born at Bara Hindu Rao hospital two years ago. “When the doctor gave her to me, I noticed that there was a small growth from her lower back. I was scared and confused. The doctors told us to get her operated at AIIMS as soon as possible,” said her mother, Komal Sena, 24.
The family, who used to lovingly call her ‘ganesh ji’ because of the extra leg, took her to AIIMS for treatment, but were told that they would get a date for surgery only after three or four years.
“It was good that the family brought her here. The limb was the size of the ring finger when the child was born, but, had grown 10–12 inches in two years, almost the size of her hand. If the family had waited longer, the limb would have outgrown the other legs and impair their functioning. It might have also resulted in a spinal cord defect which might have compromised her control over bladder and bowel movements,” said Dr Singh.
According to him, this was the first case of polymelia in which the spinal cord had developed into the additional limb.
“We had to plan the procedure carefully to save the part of the spine that had gone into the additional leg because if that got affected, it would have resulted in lower body paralysis,” Dr Singh said.
Eleven days later, the girl is in good health. “She used to play with the growth. Now, that it is gone she just keeps putting her hand behind looking for it,” her mother said.