Dubuque, Iowa

For most kids, the back-to-school physical is a rite of summer, like watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. For Blake Derby and his parents, this routine exam in 2010 turned their world upside down. It also may have saved Blake’s life.

Blake’s family doctor discovered his breastbone had begun to bow inward, causing a dent in his chest—a condition known as pectus excavatum. This inward growth can interfere with breathing and the function of the heart.

Blake and his parents, William and Patricia, were referred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where a specialist recommended that the family wait to see if Blake started to become easily winded or extra tired.

“There was such a big indentation there. Knowing it was pressing on his heart and his lungs, I was very concerned about it,” William recalls.

As a three-sport athlete, Blake lived to compete. If Blake became too tired to carry out his usual activities, UI specialists would need to perform surgery.

Within the year, “I did notice that Blake was more tired than other kids his age. He loved sports but seemed to struggle to get a really deep breath. He also developed dizzy spells,” says Patricia.

In July 2011, Blake underwent minimally invasive surgery to push his breastbone in the right direction. Pediatric surgeons made two incisions under his arms and inserted a titanium bar under the breastbone which is flipped over and secured in place to push the breastbone to its proper place. When the bar is flipped, it breaks the ribs into many tiny microfractures. The bar stays in place for three years.

Blake’s surgeon cautioned the Derby’s that recovery from the procedure would be long and painful; a full recovery can take up to six months.

Blake says, “They weren’t going to tell me it’s going to be all rainbows and sunshine all the way. They explained everything and told me I was going to be all right,” Blake says. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The surgery went well. Throughout it all, Blake never complained and stopped taking pain medications by the time he went home, say his parents.

He is back to his usual activities, even though the implant means he can’t play football. He still plays baseball, however, and is manager of the varsity football team. Blake also is active in a range of other school activities, including service groups, show choir, bowling, and school musicals. He is also active at his church and enjoys serving his parish community and participating in the youth music group.

“UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital gave me the best care I have ever had. They are the best nurses, the best doctors, the best assistants. They care for you every minute,” he says.

Patricia adds, “They were open, honest, reassuring, and compassionate the whole time. They explained everything to us, step-by-step, and I think that’s the most comfortable I’ve ever felt at any hospital.”

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