Pop Goes the Sternum! or How I Had My Pectus Excavatum Corrected, the Aftermath

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Here is the longer post I promised you. I’ll post pictures in a couple days after I’ve had time to take the post operation shots and retrieve the pre operation shots from my mom.

Pectus Excavatum is a congenital birth defect that causes the ribs and sternum to grow abnormally resulting in a sunken cavity near the sternum. I’ve had mine all my life. The symptoms I’ve experienced seemed to become worse in the last couple of years. I’ve been easily fatigued all my life, and it takes longer for me to recover from physical exertion than is normal. Prolonged periods of fatigue caused me to get sick often and contributed to a low immune system.

A year or so back, Sean Cooney, a good friend of mine, told me he was having his corrected and encouraged me to do the same. Up until then I was under the mistaken impression that Insurance companies routinely refused the operations. When I had investigated having it corrected ten or so years ago, the operation was considered cosmetic. A lot of work on the part of families who have dealt with the problem have slowly changed that and today most insurance companies will cover the operation, and the surgeons who specialize in this procedure are a lot more education about the condition and its effects.

So, six months ago I started contacting doctors and tracking down the right people to talk to. Finally I found myself in the office of Dr. Weber who had been referred to me by Dr. Naunhiem. After an initial consultation, Dr. Weber explained that the PE (Pectus Excavatum) could very well be the source of my fatigue and that he would be willing to do the surgery. At this point, I was ready, so I told him to go ahead and we scheduled it for Jan 23rd. Dr. Weber has done several hundred of the pectus surgeries and I was confident that he would do a fine job.

PE is a condition found in 1 in 300 people in the US. It isn’t an uncommon birth defect. The defect affect people in different ways. It is also most often corrected in children under the age of 18. So it was that I found myself having to navigate Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, where Dr. Weber practiced and where the best facilities were for the operation.

I would like to take a moment to say, before I continue, that the nurses and staff at Cardinal Glennon were fantastic. They were, to a one, kind and professional. My post operative care was as pleasant an experience as I could have hoped for. And I would just like to say thanks to everyone who helped me throughout the experience.

I showed up at the hospital at 11:00am and after a very brief stop off at admissions was taken to my room. I had my blood pressure taken, they recorded my weight, I changed into a hospital gown (and thankfully some light hospital pants), and they inserted as IV. After filling out some rather humorous paperwork (it was a childrens hospital, and the form are designed for kids and babies, so how does one answer questions like, ‘Does your child feed himself?’ or ‘What is you child’s favorite toy?’) I was taken to the Operating room.

Before going to the OR, I did meet the a couple of the Anethesiologists, and met some of the nurses and interns who would be watching/assisting during the surgery. I opted to have the epidural (we’ll talk about that more in a moment). In the OR I sat down on the table and chatted with the staff a little. I was given a shot of something through the IV and a few moments later I woke up in my room. The surgery was over and had gone well, and I felt no pain, only I was cold as they were in the middle of moving me to my bed and getting me covered up.

The anesthetic used to knock me out worked so fast I don’t remember getting foggy or faling asleep. At one moment I was looking around, the next I was waking up.

Now, about the epidural. Most wonderful things epidurals. About the size of four human hairs, tiny tubes are inserted near the spine (where on the spine is determined by what section they are trying to numb) and an anesthetic is allowed to drip in and in my case, from my collar bone to just about above my navel I was completely numb. I had the epidural in for 3 days, during which I felt a bare minimum of pain. A little tightness and stiffness, but no pain from either the incisions or the bent ribs and sternum.

Now, the procedure that I had done is called the Nuss Procudure. The Nuss procedure is minimally invasive and involves making two incisions about 2 inches in length on either side of the rib cage, just below the pecs. A steel bar, bent to the right curvature of the patients chest is inserted and then turned over, bending the ribs and sternum to the correct position. The steel bar is affixed to the bone parts of the rib cage on either side and the bar remains in side the ribcage for two years while the cartilage and bone sets and heals in the correct position.

After three days of pain free lollygagging, they removed the epidural and started me on Percocet, a lovely narcotic cocktail composed of Oxycodone and Tylenol. I felt some discomfort during the transition, till the Percocet had a chance to build up in my system.

I got out of bed on the second day to walk a little. My journey down the hallway and back exhausted me. ;) On the fourth day they took me off Percocet and allowed me to take it on an as needed basis. I’m still taking 2 pills every 4-5 hours, but plan to wean myself off in a few days.

I showered on thursday for the first time, which felt good, and was walking and standing up and feeling much better. I came home on Friday afternoon.

I’m staying at the Spilger until I’m healed enough, and plan to go back to work in a week or so.

Prayers are appreciation, specifically that I’ll be in shape to return to work in a week. My chest looks flat, and I personally think it looks really good. My thanks to everyone who called, visited, prayed and thought of me. It was really nice.

Pictures in a couple days!

Other Articles related to my Pectus Operation:
The Pectus Journey: Before and After (photos),
Pectus Update: I Hate Sleeping On My Back

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About Author

I have been writing on the web since 2000. I am a christian , a photographer, an occasional poet, a recovering dreamer, an occasional philosopher, a software developer, an autodidact, and i resemble the INFP personality type.

6 Comments

  1. Hey, glad you are doing well! I was praying for the doctors during your surgery on Monday. By the way, how did you answer that question about your feeding yourself?

    Speaking of feeding yourself, I still find myself laying candy or cereal (or my old favorite the TV remote) on my chest only to watch them roll of onto the floor. And I have been “convex” for 3 months now!

    Anyway, happy healing!

    -Sean

  2. Thanks for the prayers. I believe I took the 5th on the question. ;)

    I haven’t made the mistake of putting something on my chest yet, but I do reflexively go to lay my hand in the depression only to realize it’s gone. ;) I’m gonna miss my “bowl”. ;(

  3. I have pectus excavatum too. My bowl is fun, and people like toe at cereal and milk out of it. If his is detrimental to my health though, i think i might get the nuss procedure done. I’ll miss my dent though:(

  4. Joe,

    I’m not sure if I explained in any of the three posts on this subject that the reason I had the procudure done was because it was causing emotional distress due largely in part to the fact that I was tired all the time. My surgeon told me that it was likely the reason was because my heart was unable to fully exand when it was beating. The symptoms I was feeling were similar to someone who has heart disease.

    My experience was a good one, and if you are interested in getting yours fixed, I would reccomend it. But if you feel fine and don’t have any problem with it, then living with a pectus excavatum is safe and will not limit your life span.