Raelyn’s Story: A complete transformation, both inside and out.
Raelyn, age 18, grew up a happy child, carefree with a loving family and oblivious to the abnormality that was causing her chest to grow outward. At her four-year-old appointment, her childhood pediatrician assured her and her mom that she would grow out of it so neither of them thought much about it.
In fact it wasn’t until she began gymnastics at age eight that she even noticed she looked a bit different than her peers.
“I started to get a lot of questions, stares and rude comments in the gym because of my chest,” Raelyn says. “By the time I turned 12, I just didn’t love gymnastics anymore. All eyes were on me, all of the time. But they weren’t staring at me because I was a great gymnast; they were judging me because of my chest.”
Raelyn quit gymnastics and began her desperate search for a solution. The once happy girl now often cried herself to sleep at night, couldn’t look at herself in the mirror and hardly left her room. Several Google searches led her to believe she had a condition called pectus carinatum.
Pectus carinatum, or pigeon breast, is an abnormal growth of rib cartilage that pushes against the sternum, causing the chest to grow outward. It affects about one in 1,500 children, but is about four times more common in males than females. Though not typically life-threatening, many patients struggle with poor body image, especially as the abnormality becomes more predominant during puberty. It’s a struggle Raelyn unfortunately knew well.
Raelyn met with several doctors in her hometown of Corpus Christi as well as San Antonio who confirmed her suspicion but offered her little hope for treatment before discovering the Center for Pectus and Chest Wall Anomalies at Children’s Health.
Children’s Health is one of just a few pediatric hospitals to offer dynamic compression bracing – where a customized brace with front compression plates encircles a patient’s chest and is adjusted to increasing degrees of tightness during regular checkups – so Raelyn and her family made the eight-hour drive from Corpus Christi to Plano to discuss treatment options. After an initial consultation with Kim McHard, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Children’s Health, Raelyn began her dynamic compression bracing treatment in October 2014, wearing her brace between six to eight hours a day for the first year.
“Bracing has changed who I am completely,” she says. “It has transformed me from a girl who hated my appearance and couldn’t look in the mirror into a woman who is grateful for every day, with a positive outlook on life. I have finally grown to love myself and realize there is beauty in being different.”
Remembering her own struggle to find information about her condition, Raelyn took the brave step in early 2015 to share her journey through her YouTube channel Pressure Makes A Diamond. Since then, she has connected with patients throughout the United States as well as countries including Algeria, Holland, Greece, England and Nepal, to name a few.
“Most people with pectus carinatum don’t like talking about it because they despise having it so much and feel like nobody truly understands what they are going through,” Raelyn says. “I created this channel to share my story and ensure that others out there like me – who felt like they didn’t have anyone to relate to – wouldn’t feel so alone and would have a safe space to ask questions, share their own challenges and support one another.”