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Minimally invasive rib fracture surgery at St. Luke's

by -

Tyrone Galbreath St. Luke's Hospital open heart surgeon
A new minimally invasive surgery to repair severe rib fractures is now offered at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital.

Severe rib fractures often occur in motorcycle or motor vehicle crashes, falls or other traumatic injuries. These injuries can cause issues with breathing, debilitating pain, lead to pneumonia and may even be life-threatening.

Tyrone Galbreath, DO, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa (PCI) cardiothoracic surgeon performed the first minimally invasive rib fracture surgery in Iowa last month using a new rib fixation system at St. Luke’s.

“In the past rib plating had been reserved for the most severe trauma cases,” said Dr. Galbreath. “Doctors would take a more wait and see approach. The thought was that significant rib fractures would heal over time, however that mindset is changing. Many patients with broken ribs develop chronic pain and as many as 50 percent are not able to return to work. Studies have shown that rib fixation helps with a faster recovery and may greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.”

During minimally invasive rib fracture repair, a tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted into the patient’s chest through a small incision. Dr. Galbreath is then able to insert and place the rib fixation system – stabilizing the rib fracture.

Patients who would benefit are those with multiple ribs that are fractured, fractures that are displaced or fragmented, and complex fractures including the breastbone. Patients are typically discharged from the hospital within one to two following the procedure.

“Placing a rib plate is a lot like when doctors stabilize an arm or leg fracture with plates and screws,” explained Dr. Galbreath. “Pain is much less after the fracture is reduced and immobilized. Traditionally, the procedure was done with a large incision, which cut through several layers of muscle. The benefit of the new minimally invasive procedure is that the muscle layers are relatively undisturbed. Pain is generally a lot less than what patients were experiencing with the fracture pain. Patients generally recover in weeks rather than months.”

According to Dr. Galbreath, the overall benefits of this minimally invasive procedure are less pain, reduced hospital length of stay, and an overall faster recovery and return to activities.

To learn more about rib plating at St. Luke’s, email us at