Health Beat: Concave chest in teens

Health Beat: Concave chest in teens

MIAMI - Just last year, even yoga was too exhausting for Thomas Luongo.

"I couldn't do any strenuous activity because you could see my heart beating through my skin," said Luongo, who suffered from pectus excavatum, or concave chest.

Luongo's chest was sinking in, pressing on his lungs and his heart, and zapping his energy and his confidence.

"People would be like, 'Oh, I can eat cereal out of your chest,'" Luongo recalled.

Pediatric surgeon Cathy Burnweit used a metal bar to remodel Luongo's chest.

"It's basically putting a metal bar under the sternum and it remodels the sternum, much like braces," said Burnweit, chief of pediatric surgery, Miami Children's Hospital.

Doctors cut a small incision on both sides of Luongo's chest. The bar was tunneled under his skin, underneath the breast bone, and then rotated, and the breast bone was pushed out.

"We usually do the procedure as the child enters puberty, and so they go through their growth spurt with the bar in place," Burnweit explained.

The chest will remodel over the course of three to four years. Before the surgery, doctors had to perform open chest surgery, remove the cartilages, break the sternum and then let the bones re-heal. The recovery time was months.

With the bar procedure, Luongo was able to leave in five days and was back to daily activities in just one month.

"I feel a lot better [and] I feel healthier," Luongo said. "I've gained weight and I feel better about myself."

Burnweit said the bar is taken out in three to four years. A smaller number of kids suffer from a condition called pectus carinatum, or pigeon chest, where the chest bulges out. It is easily treated with a brace.

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