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New help for broken ribs

3:08 PM, Dec 21, 2012   |    comments
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(KSL) Those who have ever waited a long and painful time for broken ribs to heal will remember the drill well.

The patient, injured in a fall or an accident, comes into the emergency room with several broken ribs. The doctor evaluates the images of the fractures, making sure there's no additional damage. He prescribes pain medication and rest and tells the patient (even though it hurts) to avoid restricting the mechanics of breathing, which keeps the lungs from collapsing.

This recipe for repair is what Ken Manzanares was facing after the horse he was riding slipped out from under him on a slippery canyon trail. He slammed against an embankment, breaking five ribs. Trauma surgeon Don Van Borum at the Intermountain Medical Center showed Manzanares the X-ray.

"They were displaced in such a way that I risked losing my breathing capacity," Manzanares said. "And the mending," he added, "may not be what I wanted."

Allowing displaced bones to heal on their own is not only uncomfortable but often risky. Some patients never fully recover, while others become addicted to the pain medications. Many require a breathing machine for two weeks or longer.

"This seems crazy that people will still go through this when there's an alternative to getting someone off the breathing machine and out of the hospital sooner," Dr. Van Borum says.

Manzanares opted for the alternative: a new approach called "rib plating." Through small incisions at the break sites, Dr. Van Borum spanned the broken ribs with tailor made titanium plates, holding them in place with locking screws.

While the technology is similar to mending legs or arms, the novel rib plates mimic the ribs. They move while you breathe, but hold firm at the site of the break.

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