GRAPEVINE, Texas – Barbara Werley is a master sommelier, a trained wine steward. But a hit and run traffic accident nearly killed her and almost ended her career.
"I had a crushed chest so the back rib here sort of went this way," she remembered. "And from reading my reports, I had no less than 17 fractures down the rib cage."
Her chest was crushed so badly it took two surgeons to physically move her ribs back into place, and they used titanium plates to hold the rib cage together, so she could breathe without pain.
"I think that the recent development and advent of rib fixation technology is quite a breakthrough. For decades the medical community has struggled with how to treat these patients," explained Dr. Bradley Putty, medical director of Baylor University 's Medical Center,
Severely broken ribs can puncture lungs, hinder breathing, and cause severe pain.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR: It is important for a person to see their health care provider if they experience a very tender spot in the rib area that occurs after trauma, or if they have difficulty breathing or pain with deep breathing. You must seek medical attention immediately if you feel pressure, squeezing pain, or fullness in the center of the chest lasting more than a couple minutes, as well as pain that extends beyond the chest out to the shoulders or arms. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.and occasionally assisted breathing using some form of respiratory support. For more severe fractures, a surgical procedure called rib fixation can be administered. This helps keep the injured bone in place to allow for proper healing, and this procedure has shown to lower the rate of mortality and shorten hospital stays. (Sources: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-ribs/symptoms-causes/syc-20350763)
At one time, some patients needed to use "iron lungs". Now techniques developed in the military are improving some patients' ability to recover and lead normal lives.
Dr. Putty developed his techniques in the Air Force. New biomaterials are sturdy, flexible, and promote healing, making ventilators less necessary.
"Then you fix it to the different ends of the ribs by drilling and then screwing these screws in place," said Dr. Putty. "Barbara has enjoyed quite a recovery. Patients do enjoy an earlier return to work and at times a return to work where they otherwise would've had to give up their livelihood."
The titanium rib plates are MRI compatible. The TSA says it can see them when patients walk through the X-ray machine but should not set off a metal detector at the airport.
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