“My whole life, I had always heard that if you fracture a rib, the only option was to wait it out and let it heal, which could take months,” said Young Han, M.D., a retired physician from Newport Beach.
Much to her surprise, when Dr. Han fell last year and broke five ribs, she was offered the option of surgery by Ledford Powell, M.D., a thoracic surgeon, at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center’s Emergency Room.
“I had never heard of that before,” said Dr. Han. “Even my physician friends had never heard of it.”
Her initial thought was “no,” but her pain continued to be excruciating three days after the fall. (She had also punctured a lung.)
Dr. Powell offered to perform a procedure called open reduction and internal fixation, where the broken ribs would be repaired using 1.5 mm titanium plates to stabilize the bones. With the pain too much to bear, Dr. Han agreed to surgery.
I had always heard that if you fracture a rib, the only option was to wait it out and let it heal.
Young Han, M.D.
Newport Beach, Grateful Patient
“Immediately after the surgery, I already felt so much better,” Dr. Han said. “I could breathe without pain.” She was even able to go home the next day.
“About 4 million patients a year are admitted with a rib fracture in the U.S.,” said Dr. Powell. “They think they have to deal with pain, which makes it difficult to breathe. Often they return to the hospital with pneumonia.”
Older patients benefit the most from the procedure; they have the most potential for complications after a rib fracture, according to Dr. Powell. He is the only physician in Southern California who performs this surgery with a minimally invasive approach that preserves the muscle tissue. He performed more than 200 just last year.
“It often takes less than an hour, and the patient usually goes home the next day,” he said. “It dramatically speeds their recovery.”
Dr. Han’s daughter and Foundation Board Chair Cathy Han, M.D., was especially grateful that this innovative surgery could be offered to her mother. She knows the support of donors enables Saddleback Medical Center to offer trailblazing procedures that might not be available elsewhere.
“Through my work with the Foundation, I understand the type of care my mother received is elevated because we have generous support from our community,” said Dr. Cathy Han.
“With philanthropy, Saddleback Medical Center can attract brilliant physicians like Dr. Powell who are pioneers in their fields, performing game-changing surgeries not always available elsewhere.”
Four months later, Dr. Han’s quality of life has returned to the same as before her fall. She’s back to playing golf weekly, and she recently traveled back east to attend her grandson’s graduation from Yale College —and she didn’t miss a beat.
“I don’t feel the injury at all,” she said. “It’s like it never happened — all because of a surgery that I didn’t know was possible.”