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The titanium rib aids children with chest deformities

"Titanium rib" helps to support or rebuild the chest cage in children with a variety of orthopedic conditions
CNN's Dr. Steve Salvatore reports on a device that allows a doctor to expand a child's chest cavity for organ growth
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April 1, 1999
Web posted at: 2:11 p.m. EST (1911 GMT)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) -- Dr. Robert Campbell Jr., of Christus Santa Rosa Health Center in Texas, is using modern technology to help correct spinal and chest malformations. The former engineer-turned-orthopaedic surgeon has developed a device called the "titanium rib" to rebuild chest cages in children suffering from a variety of orthopedic conditions.

The experimental, implantable prosthetic device is used to treat a variety of congenital chest deformities that cause a condition known as "thoracic insufficiency syndrome." Children born with this insufficiency have chests that are not able to support normal respiration, lung growth and development.

One of Campbell's patients, one-year-old Karina Rodrigues, suffers from Jarcho-Levin Syndrome, a condition that doesn't allow the chest wall to grow, limiting the growth of vital organs. It can be fatal.

When her parents learned of her condition they were devastated, but they found hope in Campbell.

"In Karina we would use (the titanium rib) for a chest wall jack," Campbell said. "We would take the ribs that are stuck together and split them apart. Then we would take the device put it in vertically to help spread the ribs apart."

Karina is not the first to benefit from the experimental device. The idea was born in an impromptu consult with thoracic surgeon Melvin Smith, of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, in a last ditch effort to save another child who also needed a bigger chest cavity.

"We sat it down on -- I guess -- on some paper towels and drew out what we could do to initially build the child a chest cage," Smith said.

After Campbell received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a clinical trial, the next challenge was getting the device made.

"I found a company that has a good enough soul to go out on a limb for a small child," he said. "One child just to build the first devices."

So far, 68 children have been treated with the device, with excellent results.

"We've probably evaluated close to 400 children worldwide that have severe spinal and chest malformations," Campbell said. So we have probably a back log of close to 30 kids waiting for surgery right now."

Any surgery carries risks such as infection, breathing problems and even death, but many of the children needing the rib are already critically ill. Surgery is often the only chance they have for survival.

Karina's battle is far from over. As she grows, the prosthesis will need to be adjusted every four to six months. Campbell says eventually it will need to be replaced, that means four more operations before she's done growing.

Medical Correspondent Steve Salvatorecontributed to this story.

Santa Rosa Health Center
Titanium Rib Project Home Page
University of Texas Health Sciences Center - San Antonio
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