Slipping Under the Radar: New rib surgery fights chronic pain, opioid dependency

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 *Last week, we brought you the first part of Slipping Under the Radar, detailing a new surgical procedure by UHC Dr. Adam Hansen to treat Slipping Rib Syndrome. This is part 2.*

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va — 15-year-old cross country runner Lindsey Darnell’s life took a horrifying turn during a routine five mile run.

Lindsey Darnell

“My rib fully popped out, and it was showing through my shirt,” she explained. She spoke matter-of-factly, but as she continued her story it was clear the memory was a painful one. “And I was literally bent over on the side of the road trying to shove my rib back in.” 

At the time, Lindsey, who was out running with her teammates, was still miles from her school and no one had a cellphone. There was only one way to get help.

“I had no choice but to run back to the school,” she remembered. She didn’t know those last miles were only the start of the long road that would eventually bring her to West Virginia and United Hospital Center thoracic surgeon Dr. Adam Hansen.

“I ran my last race on the 21st of September. I collapsed across the finish line. It was absolutely brutal,” she said. “So we went to urgent care and they’re like ‘I can’t find anything wrong with you because it doesn’t show up on X-rays.’” 

Lindsey and her family heard different diagnoses from dozens of doctors, including everything from mental health issues to cancer. Laurie Kimmel, another patient of Dr. Hansen’s, experienced something very similar. You can read her story below:

Slipping Under the Radar: A UHC doctor repairs lives with a new surgery

“Everybody sort of basically brushed me to the side,” Kimmel told 12 News. “Didn’t take it seriously. I’m like wait. This is literally ruining my life.”

Laurie Kimmel

Dr. Hansen says most patients who find him have already seen anywhere between three and 20 doctors. Lindsey credits her mother Amy’s tenacity for finding the correct diagnosis relatively quickly. Finally, a doctor correctly diagnosed her with Slipping Rib Syndrome (SRS), but that presented another problem. The common treatment for SRS is costal cartilage excision, which involves removing ribs.

“I’m only 15. To get my ribs removed, that’s terrifying.”

Lindsey Darnell

Other treatments for SRS involve pain management, which can also lead to addiction. Dr. Hansen says he has big hopes his procedure can help fight the opioid epidemic.

“That’s been a major focus of this project, developing this procedure. Getting people off narcotics and stuff that’s addictive.” 

Lindsey and Laurie know the struggle of managing medication first-hand.

“It was like here’s a Band-Aid, here’s a Band-Aid, here’s a Band-Aid,” Laurie remembered.

“I’ve been on a series of meds for what I had,” said Lindsey. “But nothing stopped the pain. It was horrendous.” 

SRS is more common in women, but can affect anyone at any age. It is often caused by traumatic injuries like ATV roll-overs, domestic violence, or like in Kimmel’s case, self-defense class. It can be degenerative over time, or caused by pregnancy. It is also prevalent in people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Hansen says he’s seen many patients with prior misdiagnoses.

“I’ve had 14 of them that have had their gallbladder removed and a few others that have had an appendectomy or a piece of their intestine removed, just different operations in their abdomen that was mistaken for some other organ pathology; all the while it was slipped rib syndrome.” 

For Lindsey, her pain is finally over after a trip from her home in Michigan to UHC in Bridgeport, West Virginia for Dr. Hansen’s procedure. In fact, Laurie and Lindsey had their operations on the same day in March 2020.

Lindsey said she felt back to normal in six weeks, but Dr. Hansen said ‘not so fast.’

“He told me I had to wait 8 weeks,” she laughed. “I said, okay for making me wait 8 weeks, I’m doing a double-backflip off the trampoline. And he was like, okay bet….thinking I was not serious!” 

Dr. Hansen beamed when thinking back to that video. “She went from completely bedridden to doing backflips on a trampoline! […] She’s actually given hope, I think, to a lot of these patients who are just in miserable pain. She’s been there, she’s fixed.”

As for Laurie and Lindsey, they’ve got a special story, stitched together by one surgeon in West Virginia. They keep in touch, and Laurie calls Lindsey her “superhero.” These days, Laurie is working on walking a marathon, and she’s back to doing headstands and yoga.

Laurie Kimmel doing yoga

Lindsey is wasting no time jumping right back in.

“I’m back living my life. It’s amazing.”

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