Back On Course: Evan's Riley Story
For the past 15 years William Tell Elementary has had a fundraiser for Riley Hospital for Children. As principal, this was one small way we could thank Riley for helping our students who’ve been treated there. Little did my husband, Wesley, and I know that one day all three of our sons would benefit from the expertise at Riley.
When Evan was a baby we learned he had a sunken sternum. The condition is called Pectus Excavatum, and there was a 50% chance he would need surgery when he became an adolescent. The surgery would involve a steel bar implanted in the chest for a period of 2-4 years. The more I researched, the more I prayed he would never have to have this painful procedure. At least we had a 50/50 chance he wouldn’t need it!
Evan has an older brother, Colin, and a brother three years younger, Andrew. As the boys grew we discovered all three of our boys were affected by this condition, with Evan’s case being the most severe. We learned the symptoms to watch for that could indicate they’d need surgery: shortness of breath, exercise fatigue, chest pain, etc. Even though all three had a heart murmur (another common indicator), the cardiologist was not alarmed and reported healthy hearts.
A PAINFUL REALIZATION
Two years later, Evan had just battled a respiratory infection over Christmas in the middle of his 6th grade junior high swim season. When his complaints continued―chest pain, he couldn’t get enough air, he’s tired even walking up stairs―it became obvious it was more.
A chest x-ray showed that his sternum had sunken so low it was rubbing against his right ventricle, causing the chest pain. His pulmonary testing showed mild obstruction, hinting there was not enough room for his lungs to fully expand. For his quality of life, he had to have the surgery to lift his sternum. He knew it, too. By this time, his chest pain was constant, not just occurring during exertion. Now on the golf team, Evan said, “I want to be able to play nine holes of golf without chest pain.” It was a pretty clear realization for a 12 year old.
A CONFIDENCE-INSPIRING SURGEON
We included Evan in the decision-making about where the surgery would take place. We had been graciously accepted as a patient of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Fred Rescorla at Riley Hospital for Children, and after his first visit Evan decided that traveling to Indianapolis for the surgery was what he wanted to do. Riley was top-notch from the moment we stepped through the front doors at that first appointment. Dr. Rescorla listened to Evan’s questions and concerns and gave Evan the confidence to understand the procedure, to know the pain he was going to endure, and then to realize the quality of life changes that would result. Evan’s mind was made up, and so was ours.
THE TOUGHEST DAYS
The trip to Indianapolis the day of the surgery was difficult. We hadn’t even gotten out of Tell City and there were tears. It was an emotional trip there, with each of us sharing our fears and our hopes for the surgery.
The professional team at Riley kept all of us, including Evan, informed every step of the way. The steps he took with the nurses to the operating room as he left us were the hardest ones, even as he gave us a “thumb’s up” before he turned the corner. That was the moment I had been dreading, but his final hugs before that departure made me thankful to experience his love. As we waited during surgery, a nurse updated us hourly. Finally, Dr. Rescorla himself assured us the surgery had been a success.
“I FEEL LIKE I’VE BEEN HIT BY A TRUCK”
To say the next few hours, days and weeks were a challenge is an understatement. Pectus Excavatum surgery, as the pain management team informed us, is the second most painful procedure done at Riley. Seeing Evan in the recovery room confirmed this, as he managed to tell us, “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” The pain management team and his regular team of doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to make him as comfortable as possible and to keep him informed of expectations. They took care of Evan, and he bonded with so many of the staff.
We will never forget those who cared for him. We spent six days at Riley, and they cared for us like we were family.
FROM MAJOR PAIN TO MVP
Evan was able to transition at three months post-surgery into basketball, then swimming, and his favorite sport, golf. He was the MVP on his junior high swim team and on his junior high golf team―a big improvement from not being able to get enough oxygen to walk up stairs without tiring!
At Riley you are not alone. We met families who shared their stories, their tears, their highs and their lows. We met patients who survived life-changing events, and their stories changed our lives and made us again thankful our boys have a condition that can be corrected. Evan’s recovery at Riley and at home brought our family closer, and with the support of family, friends, and school staff at Tell City Jr.-Sr. High School, Evan worked his way through the initial accommodations needed and successfully completed his 7th grade year and is currently in his 8th grade year. The bar inside his body holding the sternum at its new location will be removed after three years. We are halfway there!
OUR FAMILY’S MESSAGE TO RILEY
Our youngest son has already been examined and the baseline measure shows surgery is indeed a possibility for his future. If we have to go down this road again, we know Dr. Rescorla and Riley Hospital for Children will be there to guide us every step of the way.
Thank you, Riley Hospital, for giving our family the strength to work through this. As a result, our boys will have the quality of life they deserve.
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