Pectus excavatum is the most common congenital birth defect. One out of 400 babies is born with a chest wall that doesn't form properly and becomes concave. Kids with pectus routinely have surgery. Adults have either had to live with it or face major more complicated operations. Now, doctors at Mayo Clinic are performing the same surgery for kids on adults and improving the lives of many people.

We're doing a repair of a deformity of the chest wall, called a pectus excavatum.

Dr. Dawn Jaroszewski is a thoracic surgeon, who specializes in pectus repair.

It was once thought that these deformities were all cosmetic and it didn't affect the patient at all. And now, we're finding out that people can have very severe heart and lung problems.

A couple of years ago, I developed a little bit of a wheezey cough.

Michelle Kroeger had a mild case of pectus that got worse over time.

When I'd be running, it'd be harder and harder. I'd get more short of breath. And then I was getting more palpitations in my heart, chest pain.

You can see here this very narrow space between her spine here and her chest.

The concave chest was compressing Michelle's lung, and it shifted her heart to the left. Traditional surgery for adults means major surgery, opening the chest, and remodeling the chest wall. But Dr. Jaroszewski uses a much less invasive technique that was once only used for children.

First, Dr. Jaroszewski makes small incisions on either side of the patient. Then, guided by a small camera, she inserts bars that lift the chest wall into a more normal position.

This is an x-ray, which shows an adult two bars and a nice repair.

The bars are sort of like braces. Michelle will keep them for about two years. When they come out her chest will retain its new shape. Now, she can continue her busy life symptom free.

Michelle says she got relief from symptoms almost immediately after surgery. The only drawback to having the bars in her chest, Michelle says, she sets off the metal detectors in airports, which to her is a small price to pay for a better quality of life. Mayo Clinic is one of only a handful of medical centers in the US performing this operation for adults. For Medical Edge, I'm Vivien Williams.

May 06, 2020