Fleetwood gran who had 'bionic' titanium sternum implant fitted has had it removed

A Fleetwood grandmother who underwent a pioneering procedure to have a titanium sternum implanted and has now had another amazing op – to remove it altogether.

By Richard Hunt
Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 4:55 am

Linda Edwards was one of only six people in the world to have had her sternum – the front part of the ribcage - replaced with a titanium implant after the space age operation three years ago.

Linda, a 55 year old mental health support worker at The Harbour in Blackpool, underwent the ribcage replacement procedure in August 2019, having a bespoke 3-D printed titanium sternum implant fitted by a team of specialists at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.The brilliant, pioneering procedure was necessary after heart surgery elsewhere left her sternum so damaged she could literally swing it around and even twiddle one of her ribs.

It was because of this – after suffering life-threatening heart problems some years earlier - that she ended up having the procedure at Birmingham, after a wait of almost two years, having heard about it and campaigning to get it done on the NHS.

Linda Edwards had a pioneering titanium implant operation in 2019 - but has now had it removed

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Despite feeling “like death” when she woke up after the pioneering surgery, the operation was a success and Linda was relieved to finally have a solid sternum again.

But sadly, despite the extraordinary ‘bionic’ operation which made Linda part of an exclusive international club, she was plagued by a series of setbacks, including some debilitating infections

In June this year, the mum-of-three and grandmother finally had to have the implant removed after a latest health setback – and her titanium sternum has been replaced with toughened muscle.

Linda Edwards' 3D printed titanium implant, which she had fitted during a groundbreaking operation in Birmingham in 2019

Linda, who has had to show incredible powers of resilience during years of serious health problems and setbacks, said: “I’m like a human jelly baby in the middle!

"Basically I’ve got just muscle there, no breast bone.

"No one’s had the implant removed before, so I suppose I’m the first one.

"I think that if I’m honest, my body had been rejecting the implant from the word go.

Linda Edwards' damaged sternum

"All the infections and problems were my body’s reaction to it.

"Things were really bad this year and I think it got to the stage where they had no choice but to remove it.”

The removal of a sternum is no small issue and carried its own health risk, with doctors at Birmingham advising her of the potential risks.

Surgeons skilfully recreated her chest using muscle from other parts of her body and she was only on the operating table for five hours.

Linda Edwards after her operation for the titanium implant in Birmingham

Despite the magnitude of the procedure, the operation was again successful.

And Linda, of Warrenhurst Avenue, says: “ How do I feel? Absolutely brilliant!

"It does feel weird but for the first time in ages I am not fighting off infection and feeling terrible.”

Linda’s first serious setback with the titanium sternum occurred exactly a year ago when the rubbery, outer coating of the implant had to be removed because of an infection.She said: “I was in a bad way at the time.“They needed a covering for the bare meatal so they had to pull up my stomach muscles and that led to complications.”

Worse was to come in February this year when Linda was involved in a road accident which tore the skin of her chest and resulted in a hole developing which then became infected.

"You could see the metal implant through the hole, it’s amazing I didn’t get sepsis.

“They just had to remove the sternum completely but while I was waiting for it I was in a really bad way.”

Despite the string of difficulties Linda has faced with her health, she says that one of the best things to come from the entire experience has been the international Facebook group she set up for a small number of others who have developed rare sternum problems after undergoing various operations.

Members help each other with emotional support, friendship and advice, and the group – the Open heart surgery /Sternotomy/Sternectomy/Non-Union/Mental Health Support - now has 217 members from across the world.

They have offered solace when she was at her lowest ebb.

Linda is not one to wallow in the doldrums, though – she plans to go back to work in a few weeks.

She says: “The Harbour have been brilliant with me and really supportive and I hope I can get back as soon as I can.”

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham were contacted for a comment to explain the latest procedure.