MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A sunken chest wall, or pectus excavatum, is more common than you may realize. USA Health is the only hospital using cryoneurablation as part of treatment for the condition in the region. Only a few hospitals in the country use the procedure.
Doctors say it isn’t something that’s discussed much due to patients being embarrassed about it. But if your child has a chest wall abnormality where their breastbone sinks into their chest, you should definitely talk to their pediatrician about it. It may be solely cosmetic, but even that can cause anxiety and socialization problems for children. Worst-case scenario, it can lead to serious cardiac issues.
The condition is typically seen in children, particularly boys. It’s often noticeable shortly after birth but worsens during puberty. That’s about the time when Lane Frazier says he started noticing changes in his chest. He says he didn’t think much of it then, but when he got to high school, his doctors performed several tests, and said something had to be done.
“My heart had moved away from its original spot and moved to the left because it started caving in so bad,” Frazier said.
Lane says he started experiencing breathlessness.
He said, “It was real hard to breathe than normal but as you’ve grown up you never notice it because your body gets used to it over time. But the worse it got the more I started having pains.”
His chest wall had sunken to the point where it was close to hitting his backbone. That caused his heart to shift in his chest, and doctors say the problem could have led to heart failure if not corrected.
The traditional procedure used to correct the damage is known to be painful with a prolonged recovery period.
“This is typically one of the most painful procedures that a pediatric surgeon does because it entails the reconstruction of the entire chest,” said Dr. Hannah Alemaye, USA Health pediatrics.
But with the addition of the cuttingedge cryoneurablation pain control method at USA Health, Frazier was able to have the surgery and finish high school the following month.
“We use a technology that came out of some work being done for heart surgery, and it allows us to use a very cold temperature probe to freeze the nerves that provide sensation to the area where we’re operating. So essentially what happens is it numbs that whole area and that numbing lasts for somewhere between 3 to 6 months. The before and the after in terms of what patients go through is really outstandingly different,” said Dr. Alemaye.
Dr. Alemaye says this operation is easier to perform during the teenage years rather than waiting until adulthood when there could be more complications. She says that’s primarily because bones are set in adults, but they’re softer and more pliable during teenage years. She says innovation like this is what being a pediatric surgeon is all about.
“When you become a pediatric surgeon, one of the driving forces behind that is that you can change outcomes not just for a child and not just in that moment, but for their whole lifetime,” Dr. Alemaye told Cherish Lombard.
As for Lane, he says he’s feeling much better these days. He’ll have to have a second surgery in a few years to remove the bar placed under his breastplate during his initial surgery. After that, he should be able to continue being a teenager without breathing difficulties, without embarrassment, and without pain in his chest.