Gundersen Lutheran performing surgery to correct sunken chest

Minimally invasive surgery relieves pain and improves stamina

La Crosse, Wis., March 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Mark Saxton, MD, pediatric surgeon at Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wis., is performing a minimally invasive surgery to correct pectus excavatum (sunken chest) in adults.

Sunken chest is a birth defect characterized by a sunken sternum or breastbone,” explains Dr. Saxton. “The deformity tends to worsen until the patient is full grown and will not improve with age. It is caused by extreme growth of cartilage that connects each rib to the sternum. This causes the sternum to buckle in towards the spine.”

While not life-threatening, the buckled sternum can compress or displace the heart and lungs resulting in shortness of breath with exertion, or chest pain.

Most patients treated at Gundersen Lutheran are teenagers, but Dr. Saxton says he also sees several adults each year. “The adults we see were misinformed when they were younger and were told that either the problem would go away with age or that there was no treatment available,” says Dr. Saxton. “Also, traditional surgery was more extensive and took longer to recover, so many people decided to just live with the problem.

The newer procedure is far less invasive, requiring small incisions under each armpit. Through a series of maneuvers, a customized curved stainless steel bar is positioned behind the sternum but on top of the chest wall, using it as a base of support. The bar pushes the sternum to its proper position as it sits entirely under the skin and soft tissues.

“The improvement is immediate,” Dr. Saxton explains. “Shortly after surgery, patients notice improvements in breathing, discomfort and stamina.”

The patient spends four to five days in the hospital and can usually return to work or school within 10 days. The bar is left in place for three years while the chest remodels itself to the normal contour. The bar is then removed during an outpatient procedure.

For more information about this procedure or to make an appointment with Dr. Saxton call Gundersen Lutheran Surgery Clinic at (608) 775-2331 or (800) 362-9567 ext. 52331.

About Gundersen Lutheran

Headquartered in La Crosse, Wis., Gundersen Lutheran Health System is a multi-specialty group medical practice with hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa that provide emergency, specialty and primary care services. Gundersen Lutheran Health System consistently ranks in the upper 5 percent of hospitals in the country. To find the latest news releases, go to www.gundluth.org/news/.