Hayley clutched her side for the hundredth time that day. She was in serious pain, but it was the fact that no one believed her that really hurt.
After being told time and time again that her agony was in all her head, one doctor recognized the symptoms. She would need to be taken in for treatment – and her dad wasn’t happy.
Hayley was a passionate swimmer. The 16-year-old took to the water when she was just 18 months old, and she was hooked ever since.
But one day, during routine practice, Hayley noticed that she wasn’t gliding through the water as gracefully as usual. Then, just before she reached the end of the pool, a sharp pain had her struggling in the water.
With the help of her team, Hayley was safely lifted out of the water after the twinge in her side made it difficult for her to move properly.
The lifeguard wasn’t able to determine what had happened, so he called her parents to collect her. But while Hayley had made it safely out of the water, her troubles were only just beginning.
Hayley thought it must have been a pulled muscle, but as the day went on, she complained about the pain more and more.
As it’s common for athletes to suffer discomfort in their bodies – especially swimmers – her parent Beth and Brian took her to bed and told her to get some rest. But that night, Hayley woke up screaming.
Hayley couldn’t get out of bed. Not only was she suffering that same intense pain in her side, but she wasn’t able to lift herself up either.
Her mom and dad leaped out of bed and flipped on the lights. “It’s hard to breathe,” Hayley told them. Beth and Brian were seriously worried, but they had no idea what to do.
Hayley’s parents realized that their daughter may have done some serious damage. They saw the distress on the teenager’s face as the agonizing pain made it impossible to do even the simplest of tasks.
The next morning, they helped Hayley get dressed and took her to the hospital. But nothing could prepare them for what the doctor had to say.
Beth and Brian waited as the doctors ran their tests. They didn’t seem to ask many questions about Hayley’s particular case and appeared to have made their minds up as to what was going on.
For Hayley’s parents, this was a relief. At least they’d know what was going on. But the results left them gobsmacked.
The doctors said that everything was OK and that Hayley had nothing to worry about. The scan showed no tearing or bruising around her ribcage.
Hayley was told she’d probably just overdone it at the pool and should take a break from swimming until the pain went away. But Hayley refused to leave the doctor’s office without a better explanation.
“You must have missed something!” Hayley insisted, fighting back the tears. “The pain is unbearable!” But the doctor just repeated his previous diagnosis and showed her the scan had not detected anything out of the ordinary.
In the end, they admitted something that pushed the young swimmer over the edge. She couldn’t believe they would even suggest such a thing.
With all the tests coming back negative, the doctors suggested the pain could be stress-related. In other words: it was all in her head.
Hayley ran out of the doctor’s office in tears. She felt so alone and scared. Were her dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer over? She needed help!
Hayley’s dad found his daughter sobbing in the hospital car park. Although she was a teenager with typical teenage problems, there was no reason to think the physical pain she was suffering was psychosomatic. Did they think she was doing this for attention?
Brian promised his daughter he would get to the bottom of what was going on, but in reality, he didn’t know where to turn.
By this point, even strapping on a backpack or using a hairdryer left Hayley crying in pain. Brian was furious that a doctor would even suggest to his suffering little girl that this was all in her head.
So he did what any father would do. He got to work looking for the best doctors in the country to get Hayley well again. And right from the outset, he faced nothing but obstacles.
Brian was recommended a top doctor by a friend from work and took Hayley directly to see him. But despite a more thorough analysis, he more or less echoed the findings of the first doctor – nothing was coming up on the scans, therefore there’s nothing wrong with her.
The desperate father couldn’t bear to watch his daughter in agony anymore and vowed to do whatever it takes to get her back to her normal life. Then Beth discovered a promising lead.
Hayley’s mom Beth had been desperately scrolling through medical websites looking for some kind of explanation, but nothing useful was coming up.
It took the best part of the year until she discovered the work of Dr. Lisa McMahon, who had had a personal experience that would prove pertinent to Hayley’s case. But would they be able to get an appointment?
“It was just really hard as a parent to watch your kid be in pain and not be able to do anything about it,” said Brian “But when we took her to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona, things started to look hopeful.”
Dr. McMahon welcomed Hayley warmly when she arrived at the hospital and said she could see that what she was going through was really tough. Hayley smiled for the first time in months. Finally, someone understood! But could she help her?
Dr. McMahon put her hand on Hayley’s shoulder and told her everything was going to be alright. The budding Olympian swallowed hard as she watched Dr. McMahon go through all the same tests as the previous doctors.
But when they sat down to look at the results, Dr. McMahon was more confident than the others as she explained her diagnosis. She was sure she had found what every previous doctor had missed.
Dr. McMahon explained that Hayley was suffering from a rare condition known as “slipping rib,” meaning the cartilage surrounding her lower ribcage wasn’t staying fixed where it should be and was causing her pain.
The doctor was able to quickly diagnose Hayley’s condition and recommend the correct treatment. But the reason why she was able to detect it so fast is quite a coincidence.
Dr. McMahon had suffered from the condition herself when she was Hayley’s age. The symptoms Hayley described led her to investigate something that any other doctor would have overlooked.
The rare condition is caused by cartilage from the lower ribs slipping, which causes the sufferer pain in their chest or upper abdomen. It usually occurs in middle-aged people.
But diagnosis was one thing, successful treatment would be another altogether – and Hayley’s dad was dreading it.
As she prepared for her first session of physical therapy, he knew she had a long and painful journey ahead of her. Was it going to hurt even more? Would it eventually take her pain away? Would she ever be able to swim again?
Fortunately for the youngster, the treatment went a long way to rectifying the problem and she can now live without every movement causing her to wince in pain. She was even given a designer swimsuit from her idol Missy Franklin who was touched by her story of recovery.
“I am most definitely feeling better,” said Hayley. “It’s nice to be able to live again without having to worry about your ribs popping.” Can you imagine living a whole year in pain without knowing what was causing it?