Last September, when Baxter Moseley was asked to prepare an essay for a high school English class, he knew immediately how he would begin: “It’s funny how you can go to sleep as one person, but wake up feeling like someone brand new, fresh out of the box,” he wrote. “This is what happened to me …”
Baxter had decided to write about his life-changing experience at Children’s of Alabama during June of 2011. It was then that surgeon Mike Chen placed a metal bar between Baxter’s heart and chest wall to correct an abnormality called “pectum excavatum,” which causes the chest to sink inward.
Baxter had been healthy, happy, active and competitive until he turned 12 and hit a growth spurt – shooting up almost 8 inches in just half a year. “We were in middle school and all my friends would compete in our physical education program to see who could perform a drill first or the best or the farthest,” he remembers. “It got to where I couldn’t keep up, and I noticed my chest was different from everybody else’s.”
There were other problems as well, says his mother, Jackie. “Every time he got a cold, it would turn into bronchitis and he would start wheezing. He started using an inhaler for asthma. His doctor did allergy tests, but no allergies showed up.”
Eventually, the Moseleys turned to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham – and Dr. Chen, division director for Pediatric Surgery – for help. When Dr. Chen said the condition could be surgically corrected, Baxter petitioned his parents to move forward with scheduling him for surgery.
“I was tired of having this defect for years and years and seeing it get worse and worse,” he says. “I was actually excited about having the surgery, and I didn’t worry about it or the pain that would come afterward. I just wanted it to happen because I knew I would be better and a lot happier.”
The results were immediate. “Seeing my chest for the first time after surgery, I was shocked,” Baxter recalls. “I had had two long, thin bars inserted behind my sternum, and they had reshaped my chest. I looked completely different. Even though I was in pain after the surgery, I knew the immense pain would soon bring immense happiness.”
Dr. Chen says this particular surgery could have been problematic. “Baxter had a very severe defect and he was extremely self-conscious about it, so we were fortunate he got a really nice result,” he explains.
“It’s humbling to be on this side – to have these patients trust us to take care of them,” he adds. “To be able to do an operation that isn’t extremely complicated yet changes the lives of these kids – it’s very gratifying. This is why we do what we do.”
Baxter was told to expect a six-month period of recovery, but in just a few months he says he was he was feeling stronger than he ever had. “We took a trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and I decided to hike one of the toughest trails to challenge myself,” he says. “I was surprised at how quickly I reached the top. Looking down from the top of that mountain made me feel great about myself and what has happened to me.”
“One day I’m going to go back to Children’s to make sure I’ve thanked Dr. Chen and his staff properly. I owe them a lot – for my whole body and for all I can do. I’m going to make sure I can be the best person I can be because of that.”