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Senior Kaleigh Stanfield overcomes another rare injury

Hannah Hoffmann

Hannah Hoffmann

With plenty of makeup work to do after her week of recovery, Senior Kaleigh Stanfield looks through her AP Psychology review book and holds the pillow she was given by the hospital after surgery to her rib. “The pillow helps to compress the area where the rib was taken out,” Stanfield said.

Hannah Hoffmann, Parkway West High School

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Juggling five different orders at once, senior Kaleigh Stanfield handles a midday coffee rush with practiced ease. The change comes when she has to lean out the drive through window: there is a pop, a sudden stabbing pain and a distressing reminder of the condition she has to endure.

For the student barista, this was daily life.

“For almost four years, I’ve had a rare condition called slipping rib syndrome,” Kaleigh said. “Slipping rib syndrome is basically where the cartilage that holds your ribs in place or connects them to one another is weakened or damaged by trauma or just because of natural weakness. It allows for a rib to ‘slip’ out of place.”

No stranger to odd injuries, Kaleigh’s diagnosis came as a new peak to a lifetime of unusual ailments.

Courtesy of Kaleigh Stanfield
Post-operation, Kaleigh gives the camera two thumbs up to let her friends know she made it through.

“It’s kind of wishy washy on what exactly might have caused it, if anything, but there is a specific event I remember,” Kaleigh said. “The summer going into my freshman year, I remember my dog—who was a 30 pound puppy at the time—stepped on my chest. I woke up the next day and couldn’t even sit up. In my case, my dog might’ve brought the symptoms on, but I very well could’ve had it before that.”

Kaleighs case was unilateral; it only occurred on her left side.

“My symptoms included pain with movement, including laughing and just breathing at certain points. The biggest thing, though, is that I could manually pop my rib out of place,” Stanfield said. “Anytime I twisted, bent over or at other random times like deep breaths, it would pop out of place.”

A runner in Students on the GO!, Kaleigh’s rib never stopped her from completing another marathon or heading out to practice on the weekends.

“It kind of just became a thing that I got accustomed to. Aside from an x-ray my freshman year to prove nothing was broken, I never went to get it looked at, since it wasn’t interfering with my running or other activities I did,” Kaleigh said.

While slipping rib has the capacity to eventually resolve itself on its own through home treatment including painkillers, stretching and rotation exercises and lots of rest, for Kaleigh, the condition never seemed to get better.

“I’d say the last year, it had started to get worse. It hurt when I did almost everything. I work at Starbucks, and just keeping up with the fast pace was a struggle because I was always in pain. I’d wear heat patches, but that doesn’t stop the popping,” Kaleigh said.

For the rare condition, there was only one other possibility of treatment: a surgery called costal cartilage excision.

“I went from my physician, to a sports medicine specialist, to physical therapy where it went majorly south,” Kaleigh said. “My sports physician was the one who actually diagnosed me with slipping rib. Prior to this year, I’d never heard of it. He had only seen it two other times in his 30-plus year career and told me that since it was a structural thing, I couldn’t do much to fix it aside from surgery.”

Courtesy of Kaleigh Stanfield
Recovering at home, Kaleigh sleeps on the same pillow that she was given by the hospital.

The pediatric thoracic surgeon scheduled to operate on Kaleigh tested for a slipping rib with a hooking maneuver; after placing a finger underneath Kaleigh’s ribcage, the surgeon pulled upwards and watched her reaction. Immediate pain or movement of the rib, as Kaleigh experienced, means an official slipping rib diagnosis is justified.

“I was really nervous that they were gonna operate and find nothing, even though my surgeon had clearly felt the rib popping at my appointment and before my surgery,” Kaleigh said. “In the end, my surgeon said he could tell right away that it was an obvious problem.”

Kaleigh’s surgery took place on Halloween morning.

“For me, the cartilage between my eighth and ninth ribs ended up being the culprit. It was extremely weak, which led to a particular band of cartilage actually being removed completely,” Kaleigh said. “I’m still recovering, but I’ve made a lot of progress in the last week. The first few days were rough since I couldn’t sit up on my own or move a lot. It hurt to breathe and just walk.”

Kaleigh had almost two inches of ribs removed; while she did discuss taking the bone to bring into her fourth hour human anatomy class, both the rib and the pain that had come to affect her life were left at the hospital.

“Despite all of this, I can tell it’s going to be great when I’m done healing,” Kaleigh said. “It’s already weird to not feel a pop when I’m twisting or moving around. I can’t wait until the soreness is over, and I get my range of motion back completely.”

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