Within the first 6 weeks of our first daughter’s birth, we could see the very subtle “cave” in her tiny chest. Her father had undergone the very invasive Ravitch Procedure when he was 11 so this “cave” was not unknown to us. Her infant pediatrician reassured us that “that surgery was cosmetic nowadays” and encouraged us not to give it another thought. We didn’t, for 12 years.
As she aged, the “cave” in her chest deepened and I watched my once energetic and enthusiastic dancer and gymnast begin to become very self-conscience and embarrassed by her protruding ribs and abnormal looking chest. As she developed, her clothing no longer fit as it should and her once excited outlook on pool parties began to get overshadowed by finding the “just-right” bathing suit to minimize the questions, comments, and looks that were sure to come. At her 12 year check-up, I mentioned to our current pediatrician my concerns about her deepening chest and she recommended a consultation with a Thoracic Surgeon at Children’s. She reassured me that if the surgeon felt it was just a cosmetic procedure, than it would be a surgery that we did not have to do. I immediately decided for myself that it was cosmetic and my daughter was not going to have that “awful and painful surgery.”
We met with Dr. Brown in the fall of 2014. Hailey has always had severe anxiety making doctors and dentist visits difficult for her. But Dr. Brown’s soft spoken fashion caught us off guard. Her gentle bedside manner put both me and my daughter at ease. After she examined Hailey, it became evident that she felt the surgery was necessary. She thoroughly explained the Nuss Procedure and showed us how the bar that would be inserted.
As I sat there, I remember thinking of multiple excuses I could tell her why we were not having this surgery. I remember telling Dr. Brown multiple times, “we are not going to have this done unless it is medically necessary.” I look back now and appreciate her patience with me. She very easily could have told me then how medically necessary it was but she could obviously sense that I was not willing or ready to hear it at that time so instead she encouraged me to set up a Cardiac MRI so they could measure the severity of the cave and also see if there was any impact on my daughter’s heart. After doing some research and learning all about the Haller Index, I dutifully scheduled her MRI.
In late September, 2014 we met with Dr. Brown to get the MRI results. Again, fully expecting the results to confirm what I wanted them to confirm, this was just cosmetic, and we were NOT having this surgery. We listened intently as Dr. Brown explained that based on her measurements and images seen during the MRI, our daughter‘s heart was already being mildly impacted by her sternum. She explained that as Hailey grew, her heart and lungs would have less and less room and she would eventually become more symptomatic. This was something I had never considered….this “cosmetic flaw” could be much more than that….it could be negatively impacting her heart, lungs, and/or her aortic valve. The fear of that damage and its consequences began to be bigger than the fear of the actual surgery. Based on these results and the growing confidence I had in Dr. Brown, my own fear was something I was unwilling to allow to prevent me from doing what was best for my daughter’s future health, any longer. My husband and I agreed that day with Dr. Brown’s recommendation that our daughter have the Nuss Procedure to correct her Pectus Excavatum.
Over the next 9 months, we followed the plan set out before us by the Pediatric Surgery Department and scheduled her surgery in late June of 2015. Those 9 months were full of much anxiety, many prayers, sleepless nights, and even more days spent trying to put the impending surgery out of our minds. My biggest fear was the tremendous amount of pain our daughter would be in. I was terrified of the “breakthrough” pain, fearful that the epidural would not work or that she would not be a to handle the pain, terrified that I would not be able to bare to see her in such pain…..so much fear surrounding the “pain”.
Finally the day arrived and I had “prepared” all of us as best I could physically and emotionally for the day. I had run through the all the possible horrible scenarios in my head. I had prepared for the worst. On June 29th, 2015 Hailey had the Nuss Procedure performed by Dr. Rebecca Brown at Cincinnati Children’s. Through all my preparing, what I had not prepared for was the excellent communication with Dr. Brown throughout the procedure and days that followed. The expertise, professionalism, and periodic checking on her that Dr. Brown personally did every day we were in the hospital, the amazing nurses that cared so well for our baby girl and her pain, day in and day out, as well as being her “cheerleaders” our entire stay, the way they each went out of their way to make her feel “special” and encouraging her every day. I was not prepared for just how well the actual surgery and our hospital stay would go, how well the epidural and pain management team would help her through. How every staff member at Children’s, from the doctors to the daily custodial staff, would all make us feel welcome, safe, and well cared for. But, honestly, I was least prepared to learn how immensely strong and resilient my 13 year old daughter actually was. She was amazing. All the fear I had, I was putting on her and I was unable to believe that my child was going to be able to handle the pain far better than I could have ever imagined and that children really are resilient.
My daughter’s self-esteem is no longer a worry, she finally feels “normal”. Shopping is fun now, as it should be when you are 14! There are other subtle changes that she has noticed as well…..she has more energy, exercise stamina, and knows she can accomplish anything she wants when she faces her fears and thrives! I would encourage any mother who is facing the same fear and anxiety I was just 1.5 years ago….trust this incredible team of physicians, nurses, and staff to take the best care possible of your child. Trust your child’s resilience and strength. Trust yourself, that you are making the best decision for the future health and well-being of your most important possession and responsibility in the world. It will be okay.