As an athlete, he knew it wasn’t normal. During practices and games, Chris experienced stabbing pains and had trouble breathing. It was during a routine physical though, when the concern was elevated. While his chest had always looked a little “caved in,” the depression had recently gotten much worse. “The doctor had never seen anything like it, so she did some research and referred us to see Dr. Catherine Hunter, a pediatric surgeon, at Lurie Children’s,” said Sharlene, Chris’s mom.
Chris was diagnosed with pectus excavatum, a congenital anomaly of the chest wall. Pectus excavatum, otherwise known as sunken chest,occurs when an abnormal growth of cartilage within the chest wall pushes the sternum, or breastbone, and ribs inward creating a caved-in appearance and causing difficulty breathing. “I felt like I wasn’t normal until I realized how many people have this defect,” Chris said.
Since the age of 12, Chris had been exploring options to correct this condition. However, it was not until 14 years old when he decided the timing was right for surgery. “This was something he had wanted done for the longest time. He even started sending me videos of the surgery to convince me it was going to be fine,” Sharlene said. Watching the procedure before having it done reassured Chris he was making the right decision. “It was mostly up to me. I told my family it was what I needed and what I wanted. Not giving it much thought until the day of surgery made it an easier choice,” Chris said.
On August 7, 2015, Dr. Hunter preformed an operation to correct Chris’s chest deformity. For this surgery, small incisions are made on either side of the chest and a steel bar is put in place to support the sternum. This bar has to remain in place for one to three years depending on a number of factors. “Immediately after surgery, I was in a lot of pain,” said Chris. “Because my body was not used to the bar, I had trouble breathing,stinging pain on my side, my chest felt heavy, and I couldn’t put any pressure on it at all.” Chris said.
After a few days recovering in the hospital, Chris was able to go home. In addition to the standard post-operative medications, Chris supplemented with homeopathic options. “We came up with the natural remedies on our own with Dr. Hunter’s approval.” Chris believes that this holistic approach, monitored in a supportive environment, further improved his recovery.
Three weeks was all it took for Chris to feel new and improved. Getting back into sports was his next hurdle. He decided to start with track and soccer after getting clearance. “Dr. Hunter supported me playing sports and getting back to my normal routine,” Chris said. “If I ever fell during a sport, I would have to receive an x-ray to confirm I was alright.Every time I had to do this, she would joke around saying ‘What am I going to do with you?’.”
Chris had his bar removed by Dr. Hunter this past September. “I wasn’t worried about the bar removal,” said Sharlene. “Chris was excited, but nervous since he wanted to make sure his chest would look better.”
“My chest looks much better,” said Chris. “I didn’t imagine it would look this good. One of the highlights of having my bar removed was being able to play in our soccer game on senior night and winning! Without having pectus excavatum corrected, this may not have been possible for me.”
“Chris pushed the envelope a majority of the time when it came to medications and restrictions,” said Sharlene. “However, he did all the work and asked all the questions to make sure what he was doing was allowed. Hewould e-mail Dr. Hunter all the time and she would respond to every email.”
Chris had really formed a wonderful bond with Dr. Hunter through their constant communication and her support during this difficult time. “I felt comfortable telling Dr. Hunter what was wrong. We had a good connection. She’s interested in my plans for college and future. I will be keeping in touch with her,” Chris said.