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Patient story: Twin brothers have reconstructive chest surgery on same day

Patient Stories | November 13, 2020
Twin brothers, Jack and Clay Mornarich, had reconstructive chest surgery at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, Ore.
The procedure is to correct a chest wall deformity that can put pressure on the heart

Less than 48 hours after they had reconstructive chest surgery at PeaceHealth’s medical center in Springfield, Ore., teen brothers Jack and Clay Mornarich were feeling pretty good, all things considered, and heading home.

The 16-year-old fraternal twins both had elective surgery to correct a chest wall deformity called pectus excavatum. It is caused when the sternum, or breast bone, presses deep into the chest, creating an indentation.   

For years, this condition was thought to be more a matter of appearance than an actual health risk. But research shows the deeper the indentation, the more likely the sternum will cause pressure on the heart. This can lead to heart or breathing problems like shortness of breath, chest pain or decreased exercise capacity.

The condition didn’t seem to slow down the Mornarich boys, who enjoy track, basketball, wrestling and horseback riding.

In fact, their dad, Jeff, was initially hesitant about surgery. But he changed his mind when he saw CT scans that showed the pressure being placed on his sons’ hearts.

“When you saw that you realized how big of a health effect that could have long-term,” he said.

Dr. Kimberly Ruscher, a surgeon at the Pectus Center at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, Ore., holding a bar like those she inserted in the chests of twin brothers Jack and Clay Mornarich during reconstructive surgery.Dr. Kimberly Ruscher, one of three surgeons at the Pectus Center at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend operated on the twins. Using a small camera for an interior view, she inserted a 15-inch metal bar inside each teen’s chest.

“They pretty much put a bar in and it popped my chest out,” Jack explained.

After a few months of recovery, the boys can return to their regular activities. And three or four years down the road, they’ll return to the hospital to have the bar removed.

As many as one in 500 people have pectus excavatum, Dr. Ruscher said, and it’s four to five times more common in males than females.

It often doesn’t show up until puberty and progressively worsens during the teen years.

Sacred Heart at RiverBend is the only medical center in the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon to offer the corrective surgery, and RiverBend’s Pectus Center has cared for patients from Oregon, as well as Washington and Idaho. The center’s specialists care for patients of all ages with many kinds of chest wall deformities.

 “I'm feeling good now,” Jack said, at the end of his hospital stay. “The doctors and nurses are really helpful and they did a really great job.”

Top photo: Twin brothers Jack and Clay Mornarich.

Second photo: Teen twins Clay and Jack Mornarich with their surgeon Dr. Kimberly Ruscher.

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