Specialist NHS surgery to correct a condition causing the front of the chest to be sunken has returned to Teesside – with the first patient to receive it claiming it will “change her life”.
The return of the operation at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for people suffering from pectus excavatum (funnel chest) makes the trust one of only two in the country to perform the procedure.
Surgery to treat the condition, caused when the ribs and breastbone grow inwards and form a dent in the chest, stopped being carried out as a funded procedure by NHS England four years ago.
Since then, cardiothoracic surgeon Joel Dunning has worked hard to bring it back – with the first one being performed at The James Cook University Hospital this month.
First to benefit from the procedure was Claire Pryor, 40, from Chester-le-Street, who has had the condition her whole life.
Over recent years her symptoms have become more severe, now regularly experiencing breathlessness and being unable to exercise as she used to.
Speaking following her operation, Claire said: “I remember ever since childhood having this issue – putting my red wooden boat in the gap in my chest as it floated on the bath water.
“As an adult, I have ran a half marathon, used to kickbox and was a pointe ballerina. It didn’t affect me.
“But over recent years I have felt very slowed down. At first, I thought I was just unfit and being lazy, but it got to a point where I was having heart palpitations.
“I was sure that this condition was causing an issue with my heart. When I was seen and had a CT scan, it showed my heart was compressed and had rotated.
“This was never a cosmetic thing for me, I just want to be able to do things that I used to do before and improve my quality of life.”
Mr Dunning, who has treated the medical issue for many years, is able to offer two types of surgery.
One is the Nuss procedure, where a curved metal bar is threaded under the breastbone to fix it in position.
The other is the Ravitch technique, involving a larger incision down the middle of the chest, the removal of the deformed cartilage and fixing the breastbone into a more normal position with surgical hardware such as a metal strut or mesh supports.
Mr Dunning said: “We are delighted to be providing an NHS pectus centre for the north.
“We already have around 50 patients from all over the country who are set to have surgery.
“Patients like Claire are not looking for this surgery for cosmetic reasons – it has affected her heart and lung function for many years making her breathless and tired.”
Seventeen-year-old Louis Johnson also recently shared his own personal story, after he was also selected to be part of the trial.
Louis, who also has sunken chest syndrome, will soon undergo surgery at James Cook – having spent much of last year in hospital in Birmingham suffering with breathlessness and tiredness.