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Health Spotlight: Freezing the pain of ‘sunken chest’ surgery

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One in four hundred babies born every day will have a deformity known as pectus excavatum, or “sunken chest.”

The condition, according to the Mayo Clinic, can cause children to have trouble breathing, a rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness, and potentially a heart murmur.

While most children born with this condition improve before age one, for some, the condition worsens. Correcting the defect as a teenager requires invasive and extremely painful surgery, but now surgeons are using new techniques to “freeze” the pain away.

Dr. Kristen Shipman, a pediatric surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital in Denver, Colorado, is utilizing a breakthrough technique called a Cryo Nerve Block in the realm of “sunken chest” surgeries.

The procedure then involves using a probe, which has been cooled to -60 degrees, and used to deaden the nerves that run underneath the ribs on both sides of the body and block the nerves from transmitting pain signals.

“We’re able to freeze each intercostal nerve that runs underneath the ribs. We use two incisions along the lower ribs and put a camera into the chest so we can watch us freeze each of those nerve bundles under the rib,” Dr. Shipman said.

Dr. Shipman says this procedure may injure the nerves, but doesn’t permanently damage them. “That nerve will repair itself and regrow where it was frozen,” Dr. Shipman said.

The procedure allows for less pain immediately following the surgery. The nerve blocking can last from 4 to 6 months, eliminating the need for pain medication and opening the door for kids with “sunken chest” to look and feel normal quicker.

The Cryo Nerve Block procedure has also been used to reduce pain for cancer patients and those with other forms of neuropathy.