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I now know what it means to take a deep breath

Laura has funnel chest. For years she tried to hide its effects, but after surgery she can now breathe deeply. 

I was born with a dip in my chest, known as pectus excavatum or funnel chest. Other members of my family also had a dip, but when I started school I learnt it wasn’t normal. As I got older, I became increasingly aware of it and tried to hide it.

Hiding my chest became second nature

It impacted so many aspects of my life, including how I dressed. I had an endless supply of vest tops to wear under dresses and tops so my dip wouldn’t show. I wore vest tops under everything. I felt incredibly uncomfortable and exposed when I couldn’t. I felt my clothes were a uniform that I didn’t like. When I went shopping, my main question was: ‘will this show my chest?’

Keeping my condition to myself and hiding its effects became my nature. It was all I knew.

I was always trying to hide the fact I was out of breath

Just walking to the shop would fill me with dread before I’d even left the house, because I knew I would get out of breath. I got short of breath climbing the stairs at work or university. I tried my best to calm my breathing, but I wasn’t successful. I was also overweight.

Everyone – family, friends, teachers – thought I was lazy. I know this because they told me. If vest tops were my uniform, my soundtrack was: “you’re lazy, you’re not trying hard enough, you’re being dramatic.”

Keeping my condition to myself and hiding its effects became my nature. It was all I knew.

Getting the answers I already knew

When I was a child, my parents had been told that I’d grow out of my funnel chest. And I hadn’t done anything about it. When I got older, I’d mentioned it to health care professionals from time to time, but they hadn’t heard of it.

When I was 30, I contracted sepsis and my kidneys failed. I was in hospital for several weeks and I told them about my chest. Luckily, a health care professional had heard of it as their sister had it. I was referred to the thoracic department. 

I couldn’t hold back the tears. I wasn’t imagining it. It wasn’t in my head.

Scans showed there was more to the dip in my chest that I could not see: my heart and lungs were being compressed. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I wasn’t imagining it. It wasn’t in my head.

Taking my first deep breath

When I got the results of the scan, it was clear to my surgeon and to myself that surgery was needed – the dip was far deeper on the inside than it appeared on the outside. The only other option given was to continue as I was. But that wasn’t an option for me. I was recommended the Ravitch procedure, and after my own research I agreed.

I was told that when I woke up from my first surgery it would feel as though I’d been living with an elephant on my chest. I didn’t really believe that. But when I woke up, I could breathe more deeply than I ever had before. And gradually I could breathe more and more deeply. I now finally know what it means to take a deep breath!

Breaking the habits I’d made

Since the process started for surgery, I’ve realised there were things I was doing that I wasn’t aware of. This had a major impact on my physical and mental wellbeing, my sense of self, my relationships with friends and family, and my quality of life. 

I didn’t know the effects of my funnel chest because it hadn’t been investigated and no GP had asked about it. 

Now, I can walk and talk at the same time with no trouble. I started running after my surgery and I’m aiming to run my first 5K for charity. I want to help raise awareness of the condition and the need to fund research.

After my surgery, I had to remind myself I had different lungs, heart and body to what I had before. I could do more than I used to, and I’ve improved even more with time and hard work too.
I knew what my boundaries were before, but now even I don’t know what I’m capable of. It’s so exciting!

Feeling inspired and want to help others like Laura get diagnosed earlier?

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7 October 2019