By CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4)– A fourth grader from Parker has a steel bar behind her sternum. It was surgically placed there to push her sunken chest into a normal position.

(credit: CBS)

With the fix, Mackenzie Kurko is breathing easier.

“Hey Mackenzie, how are you doing?” asked Dr. Steve Rothenberg during a recent checkup.

She told him she has no pain when she lifts her arms and no trouble breathing. Her mother, Jessica Ketterhagen, says she is pretty much 100%.

Just 3 months ago, Mackenzie was in Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) for surgery to fix what’s called pectus excavatum, funnel chest. Some ribs and her sternum grew abnormally.

Mackenzie told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh her chest was so sunken her mother used to say,” You could fit a whole tennis ball in there.”

A year ago, her mother began to worry.

(credit: Jessica Ketterhagen)

“When we were like riding a bike around the neighborhood, she would get winded very easily,” said Jessica.

A CT scan showed a serious problem.

“Her chest should be flat, instead it’s very depressed and it’s pushing down on her heart which can affect her cardiac function,” said Rothenberg, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at RMHC.

In October, he did what’s called a Nuss Procedure. Through a few small incisions, Rothenberg inserted a curved steel bar behind the 10-year-old’s sternum.

“We flipped it so that it pushed up her sternum,” he explained.

“I was kind of scared at first,” said Mackenzie. “Once the bar was put in, it (her chest) was instantly flat.”

“She did awesome,” said Jessica.

(credit: CBS)

Mackenzie recovered with pain medicine and a stuffed bear she calls “Dr. Rothenbear.” Over three years, her chest is expected to reshape and the bar will be removed.

In the meantime, she’s got the okay to carefully start being an active kid again.

Kathy Walsh