Medical Marvels

5 Amazing Stories That Show How Coastal Virginia’s Doctors Are Making Breakthroughs And Garnering National Attention



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Look Good, Feel Good
dr nussFor the last 12 years, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) surgeon and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) professor Robert Kelly has been working to prove what many suspected: The Nuss Procedure, a surgery to correct pectus excavatum (a sunken-chest deformity) not only returns children’s chest to a regular appearance, it helps improve their cardiopulmonary function.

The Nuss Procedure was created by one of CHKD’s own, Donald Nuss, in 1987. A professor of surgery and pediatrics at EVMS at the time, Nuss was performing another surgery to improve pectus excavatum when he had an idea for a simpler, less invasive method: insert a slender, curved metal bar beneath the ribs until the child’s bones adjust to the expanded configuration. The bar gently nudges the ribs into their intended shape, and alters the appearance of the chest for thousands of children who face the condition each year. (They keep the bar in their chest for several years, and then have it removed.)

Kelly notes that the surgical advancement is one of only two in pediatrics over the last 40 years, and it has been accepted worldwide as standard care for chest deformity. Nuss, who retired in 2009, previously hosted international seminars on the procedure and taught hundreds of doctors his technique.

About one in 1,000 children face the condition, more often boys than girls. It was once believed to be a purely cosmetic concern, causing children to be self-conscious at times, but not a potential burden on the child’s lungs. However, Dr. Kelly and others believed children faced shortness of breath and some difficulties with exercise.

In December, the Journal of the American College of Surgeons published Dr. Kelly’s report summarizing his 12-year study on the wide -ranging benefits of the Nuss Procedure. Eleven medical centers, including CHKD, Boston Children’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Hospital of Sick Children in Toronto, participated, with more than 300 patients studied. They were evaluated prior to their surgeries, shortly after, and years later. Researchers noted improvement in their physical appearance and their breathing functions.

The comprehensive study could lead to more children and their families seeking the Nuss Procedure, knowing that they aren’t solely worrying about aesthetics—they’re equally concerned about having enough oxygen to feel good as they look good. 

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