Woman’s injury resolved by rib removal

A Madison woman’s rib removal saved her from a life-threatening vein injury
UW Health East Madison Hospital
UW Health East Madison Hospital(UW Health)
Published: Jul. 2, 2022 at 6:11 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Maureen Alley was admitted to University Hospital after a massive blood clot was found in one of her veins, leading to surgery that would remove one of her ribs.

Alley said she noticed her arm was purple and swollen, nearly double its size, after she finished her daily workout. The abnormality prompted her to speak with a medical professional immediately.

She was given an ultrasound scan to determine what the impact was, however, the scans came out to be clean. The swelling in Alley’s arm moved to her chest a week after she had initially voiced concern about her arm. The UW Health vascular clinic care team found a massive blood clot in a vein that runs over her shoulder between her collarbone and first rib. A sports medicine physician suggested she might have something called thoracic outlet syndrome which impacts the blood flow to the arm. She was shortly admitted to the hospital.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a term to describe three different impingements in the crowded space around the neck and shoulders, the most common pinched nerve.

Dr. Kyla Bennett, a vascular surgeon at UW Health, explained that the blood clot was caused by repeated impacts from her collarbone pinching a vein against her first rib. Alley was given two options: take blood thinners for the rest of her life or remove the rib to alleviate the impact.

“I’m very good at taking ribs out and I like it,” Dr. Bennett said to Alley when discussing what her next steps should be post-diagnosis.

Her first rib was removed from her right side in March 2021.

The choice of rib surgery was life-changing considering the alternative of blood-thinning medication that would have hindered Alley’s active lifestyle. Beyond the procedure, Alley took blood-thinning drugs for six months until the clot had dissolved.

“If we hadn’t taken her rib out, she would have had permanent arm swelling and blood clots,” Bennett said. “I don’t foresee her developing this again in the future.”

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