When 16-year-old Haley started to get more involved in competitive swimming, the teen athlete’s life was turned upside down.
First, she started experiencing discomfort and mild pain around her rib cage, right around the time that the lifelong swimmer began to ramp up her training.
She complained to her parents, Brian and Beth, who took her to see a doctor. The diagnosis, though, was simply overuse of muscles that she hadn’t strengthened or used enough prior to her increase in training. Their recommendation, unable to find anything wrong with the young woman, was to rest up and let her body heal before she got back in the water.
Instead of getting better, though, her condition worsened.
Beth and Brian took Haley back to the doctors after rest did nothing to alleviate her symptoms. By that point, they revealed, even walking was causing her immense pain, and she felt like she was having trouble breathing.
Instead of seeking out an answer that may have been more ‘out of the box’, though, the doctors accused Haley of faking it, telling her parents that the pain may have all just been inside of her own head. A mental, or phantom, pain, so to speak.
Her parents were furious that the doctors would suggest their daughter was making things up, and they were devastated that they didn’t have answers for Haley as she struggled to get by doing day-to-day activities.
“It was just really hard as a parent,” Beth explained, “to watch your kid be in pain.”
They thought answers would never come — until Dr. Lisa McMahon of Phoenix Children’s Hospital offered up her theory on what was causing the pain.
McMahon told Beth and Brian that she believed Haley suffered from a rare condition known as slipping rib syndrome. Similar to Tietze’s syndrome, it is a condition that affects the connective cartilage in an individual’s ribcage.
Where Tietze’s syndrome is caused by overuse and physical activity — and is simply the inflammation of connective rib cartilage —- slipping rib syndrome is either the detachment or absence of cartilage altogether. Tietze’s syndrome sufferers experience pain because of the inflammation, while slipping rib syndrome causes pain because the detached rib ‘slips’ under the adjacent one, causing significant pain that won’t just go away with rest and anti-inflammatories.
And Dr. McMahon was right—Hayley had slipping rib syndrome.
The diagnosis was a tremendous relief to Haley, even more so when McMahon revealed that surgery could help get rid of the pain. The floating cartilage would be removed, along with part of Haley’s ribs, and she should stop experiencing the pain moving forward.
For Beth and Brian, that a doctor not only took Hayley seriously for the first time in their journey for a diagnosis, but found the solution to their daughter’s pain, it was an emotional moment.
It turned out, McMahon had a specific reason for being able to diagnose Hayley.
The surgery was a huge success, and McMahon even suggested that the cartilage could re-grow for Haley in the final years of her adolescence.
Haley, though, is less worried about the cartilage re-growth. Right now, she’s more delighted that she can finally swim again, and take deep breaths without doubling over in pain.
“Breathing is definitely easier,” she said, revealing that she’s back in the pool and easing back into her previous workouts.
“It’s just nice to be able to live again without having to worry about your ribs popping!” she said.
McMahon is a sufferer of slipping rib syndrome herself, which helped her to identify Haley’s problem. As a hard-to-diagnose condition, though, she explained that many medical trainers still aren’t aware of its existence.
With Haley’s case, both she and Haley herself hope to raise more awareness to help out other athletes that may suffer from something similar.
Watch The Doctors interview Hayley below: