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Nuss Procedure Improves Quality of Life, Helps Boost Confidence in Utah Patient

Matt Schiff, pectus excavatum patient, before Nuss procedure

Growing up, Matt Schiff was just like any other kid.  

However, when he entered his early teenage years, he noticed a difference between him and his friends: he had a deep indentation at the center of his chest. And as he grew, the indentation did too.

“I had this huge hole in my chest, I could even eat cereal out of it,” said Schiff. “I was scared to go to the pool because people told me I looked like an alien.”  

Schiff had a condition called pectus excavatum. Pectus excavatum occurs when the cartilage connecting the sternum to the ribcage doesn’t grow normally, causing a sunken appearance or indentation in the chest.

As time went on, Schiff’s concave chest made it harder and harder to breathe.

“I couldn’t run very far, I couldn’t play sports, and I didn’t know what to do,” said Schiff. “So, we started doing some research and found Dr. Russell.”
Matt Schiff, patient

Katie W. Russell, MD, is a pediatric surgeon at Primary Children’s Hospital. She is the trauma medical director and the surgical director of the ECMO program. As a pediatric surgeon, one of her many areas of interest and expertise is repairing chest wall deformities. 

Schiff first met with Russell in 2018 to discuss how to fix his chest indentation. 

“After talking with Dr. Russell, we decided the best option to fix my chest was the Nuss procedure,” said Schiff. 

The Nuss procedure is the most common fix for pectus excavatum. In this procedure, a metal bar is placed behind the ribcage to raise the sternum and correct the depression in the chest wall. In most cases, the bar is removed after three years. 

On December 21, 2018, Schiff had the Nuss procedure done at Primary Children’s Hospital. After a brief hospital stay, he went home to recover. The benefits of the surgery were almost immediate. 

“After surgery, everything was completely different for me,” said Schiff. “My abs had been kind of hidden, but after the surgery it popped my chest out and I had abs. I enjoyed going to the pool and I enjoyed working out a lot more because I could see my results.”
Matt Schiff, patient
Matt Schiff, pectus excavatum patient, after Nuss procedure

More importantly, Schiff could breathe.

“I didn’t have shortness of breath anymore,” he said. “I could also hold my breath under water for way longer. Before surgery, it was like 30 seconds and after surgery it was three minutes. My buddies were like ‘you’re a fish’ and I was like ‘no, I just have full lung capacity’.”

Because of a two-year church mission in Cape Coast, Ghana, Schiff had the bar in his chest for nearly five years. On his 23rd birthday – August 14, 2023 – he had the bar removed at Primary Children’s Hospital. Two weeks later, he was surfing in Cancun, Mexico.

The quick recovery was a win for Schiff, and more importantly, the long-term positive outcome from both surgeries changed his entire life.

“This has completely altered my comfort levels of being around pools or working out,” said Schiff. “It has really made a big difference in my confidence in general.”

It has also opened doors to some new opportunities.

“When I was working in New York doing door to door sales, I was offered a modeling job for some pretty big companies,” said Schiff. “Even though I didn’t end up taking the job, it was a confidence boost and reconfirmed to me how amazing it is that I was able to get this fixed.”

For any patients who are nervous to have their pectus excavatum, Schiff has some advice.

“Don’t overthink it, just do it,” he said. “Because it will change your life.”

The Nuss Program

University of Utah Health providers have been performing the Nuss procedure since the mid-nineties. In 2019, the Nuss program was established at U of U Health. The program provides a collaborative, interdisciplinary care team for patients with chest deformities. This collaborative approach provides these patients with the best possible care and health outcomes.

“We started putting together the comprehensive Nuss program in 2019, and it’s continued to grow,” said Russell. “We are doing more and more procedures each year and are hoping to improve the program even more."