Health Watch: Freezing Away the Pain from Funnel Chest

PHOENIX, Ariz. (KFSN) -- Pectus excavatum or "funnel chest" happens when a child grows quickly and the chest bones don't develop correctly, often causing a sunken or hollow-looking chest. Corrective surgery is now minimally invasive, but it's still incredibly painful for a long time. Now surgeons at Phoenix Children's Hospital are using cryoablation to ease that pain.

Sebastian Diaz ran track and noticed his running performance deteriorating in the summer of 2017.

Diaz said, "It was a lot of shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, just really felt like I was kind of like trapped. I couldn't reach my full potential in the sport and stuff."

He and his family decided he needed to get his pectus excavatum fixed.

Dan Ostlie, MD, Surgeon-in-Chief at Phoenix Children's Hospital wanted to use cryoablation before inserting a rod into the chest to push it out. He holds a probe that's minus 60 degrees Celsius to four layers of nerves for two minutes. Diaz was patient number one.

Dr. Ostlie said, "That causes the child to become numb across the front of the chest while the bar is in place and decreases the amount of pain they have associated with the repair."

The numbness lasts for two months or more, meaning fewer painkillers for less time.

David Notrica, Co-Director, Chest Wall Program at Phoenix Children's Hospital said, "We now have kids that are coming off the pain medication at less than two weeks; whereas before, it was a month to get them off the oxycodone."

Diaz says his recovery has been easy, and he feels better than ever: "There was a 100 percent difference in terms of my performance, everything I did. It was really exciting."

Also exciting: he heads to college this fall, as a pre-med student.

Dr. Ostlie will remove the rod from Diaz's chest at the three-year mark, in about 18 months. Surgeons at Phoenix Children's started using cryo before pectus repair 18 months ago. They have successfully treated 95 patients who've all regained full feeling in their frozen nerves.
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