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Mark Shurtleff

If an unusual surgery today doesn't save his shattered left leg, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff will have to choose between misery and amputation.

Shurtleff is scheduled to go in for several hours of surgery to repair the leg that was badly broken in a motorcycle accident last year.

"This has got to work," he said in an interview Thursday with the Deseret News. "They feel there really aren't too many choices left."

Shurtleff said his leg bones are not healing, leaving him with a condition called "nonunion." To repair it, the attorney general is undergoing a procedure known as the "Ilizarov technique." Surgeons will go in and scrape out the nongrowing bone and make a paste with some other bone. His leg will be inserted in metal halos with wires and pins being used to affix the bones to the rings.

"The purpose is to keep it completely steady so it can finish the bone growth process," Shurtleff said.

The technique, named for its inventor, Russian physician Gavriel Abramovich Ilizarov, is most commonly used to lengthen limbs and make people taller. Shurtleff likened it to spokes in a bicycle wheel.

Shurtleff has been noticeably limping in recent days and appeared to be in pain after a Wednesday news conference announcing his office's new Web site. Prior to this latest round of surgery, he was hospitalized with a staph infection. A mild infection has remained, he said.

The attorney general was injured while practicing for a motorcycle rally to raise money for a memorial for murdered police officers. His Harley-Davidson motorcycle hit a patch of gravel and he slid, laying the bike down on his leg and shattering it.

Shurtleff faces at least six months of recovery. He is a delegate to next week's GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., but it is not anticipated that he will attend.

Shurtleff said he had a discussion with his doctors about amputation and what his life would be like with a prosthetic leg. He opted for this surgery.

"You think about that and you're like, 'OK,"' he said, hesitating slightly. "I don't want to lose my leg."

Since the surgeries, Shurtleff has been reluctant to discuss his medical problems. His family is worried, he said, and he wanted to thank those people who have offered him words of support and encouragement.

"I just want to be able to walk without a limp," Shurtleff said.

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