X is for xiphoid: Texas surgeon changes lives by listening to patients
Dr. Albert H. Yurvati, DO, knows their life stories.
The International Harvester designer’s granddaughter, driving a restored ’64 Scout, broadsided on her 50th birthday and in pain for so long she wondered if life was worth living.
The teenage basketball star, benched with chronic pain while her team headed for a state title, told by her doctors the pain that took her breath away was all in her head.
These patients and more come to Fort Worth, Texas, from New Mexico, California, Michigan and Georgia to see Dr. Yurvati, who listens to their stories of pain and offers the chance of a normal life.
For Betsy Blume, the car wreck victim, he diagnosed a breastbone injury that robs victims of breath, vitality and, ultimately, all hope.
“I plunged into some very dark places from the pain,” wrote Blume in a thank-you letter to Dr. Yurvati. “It is not overstating it to say you saved my life.”
Dr. Yurvati, chairman of medical education at the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, has become an expert in identifying the xiphoid process, a cartilage structure at the tip of the breastbone, as the source of mysterious pain for many patients.
Damage from a car wreck, a fall or other trauma can bend it so it presses on other tissues and makes breathing difficult. You could call it the appendix of the chest, Dr. Yurvati says: “No one knows what purpose the xiphoid process serves.”
Was there a lightbulb moment when he knew his patients weren’t suffering a heart problem, a rib issue or a broken collarbone, and the pain wasn’t in their heads?
You could call it the appendix of the chest, Dr. Yurvati says: “No one knows what purpose the xiphoid process serves.”
“No, it was my training,” said Dr. Yurvati. “I listen to the patient tell me what happened. More than that, I listen to them tell me how they spend their days, how they work and how they play.
“Sometimes you can see this injury on imaging, sometimes you can’t,” he continued. “But I can find it with the patient, exploring their narrative and putting that together with what I find when I put my hands on them and feel how their tissues and skeletons aren’t functioning correctly.”
Twenty-five lives, and counting, have been transformed by Dr. Yurvati’s removal of the damaged xiphoid process. “It’s not a complicated surgery,” he said. “I do it without an assisting surgeon in 90 minutes.”
A simple process, but one that can change lives.
Kylie Ducat, the teenage basketball star, today plays college ball and is engaged to be married.
And Blume is back behind the wheel of her Scout, driven to pay forward the new lease on life she’s been given.
“Dr. Yurvati, you are a man with many talents,” she wrote in her thank-you note. “But your compassion is what I’ll remember the most.”
[Note: This story was originally published by the University of North Texas Health Science Center. It was reposted here with permission, and updated with new information in 2018.]