New device offers breakthrough for rib injury patients

Dr. Pohlman and Stephanie Torres
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A Terre Haute woman is recovering from devastating crash injuries thanks to new medical advancements.

It was nearly 3:30 in the morning when the taxi Stephanie Torres was riding in was rear-ended.

"She was a drunken driver," said Torres of the driver that hit the taxi.

On impact, Torres flew from the back of the van to the front and became wedged underneath the dash.

"Stephanie had broke ribs three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten, and this whole part of her rib cage was just pushed in," explained Dr. Timothy Pohlman, trauma surgeon.

Her mouth is still wired shut for facial fractures.

"I made it 40 years and never had broken a bone and just overnight my bones were broken and I could have been gone," she said.

3-D images of her chest show the severity of Torres' case.

"You can see how her ribs are so spread apart," said Dr. Pohlman. "These would never heal. She would always have problems with these. She would always have a problem - it's called a nonunion. These would always be separate."

Before now, Dr. Pohlman said a fix was limited.

"We would just give patients some pain pills and say good luck," he said.

But Pohlman says more recently he's been able to help nearly 50 patients like Stephanie with the Synthes MatrixRIB.

"It's a plate with a bunch of holes in it," he explained.

He used a drill to secure the plates, and perform stable fixation of her ribs, which when collapsed are painful and restrict breathing.

"This is like a quantum leap forward, I think, in managing these types of injuries," he said.

"That is our most common injury and we just up until this time did not have a good way of treating it. I mean, we had so much for everything else but for ribs, we had nothing," said Pohlman.

"Technology is great. This is something that I would have never dreamed would have happened to me, but it happens to many many people," said Torres.

Pohlman says with MatrixRIB patients get out of the hospital and back to work quicker.

Stephanie says she feels fixed, but isn't back to work yet. She hopes people will think twice before drinking and driving.

"If she had been smart, maybe this would be avoided. I wouldn't be here. I didn't ask to be here," said Torres.