Asthma. Pneumonia. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
By the end of his toddler years, Kaden Ludlow had dealt with them all.
The first time the blonde haired boy walked into the hospital with pneumonia, he wore The Incredible’s superhero pajamas. But Kaden didn’t feel like he had powers. With tears in his blue eyes, he looked at his father Mark Ludlow.
“Dad, why does this hurt so bad,” Kaden asked.
“It destroys you as a father. It…it tears you up,” Ludlow now recalls.
Then life changed.
Kaden eventually grew out of his asthma and blonde hair. Illnesses stopped recurring, and for a bit, he lived without any irregular health problems. The small, thin boy ran with other kids, still coughing along the way, and playing different games through the neighborhood like hide-and-go-seek. However, the older he became, the more another condition began to show.
Born with a pectus excavatum, also called funnel chest, Kaden’s breastbone sunk into his chest. It stretched long and went deep enough that a hand in the shape of a fist could fit inside it. The indent became unavoidable. Slowly, it affected almost every aspect of his life.
Still, Kaden tried to move past it. He joined track and field in middle school. He wanted to run as though nothing was different about him. His parents knew better though. Ludlow noticed that once he ran a meet, complete exhaustion took over, and it challenged Kaden to fully recover.
Then, at the end of his freshman year, Kaden contracted influenza B. Shortly after, he entered the starting stages of pneumonia.
In June, he played the night-game “Fugitive” with friends. Each time he ran, Kaden felt his heart pound hard against his chest. As one of the chasers, Kaden put all of his energy into a full on sprint for about thirty seconds. He stopped, drained of energy. Instead of continuing to play, Kaden walked home.
His parents decided to take Kaden to a doctor. The results surprised them. Kaden’s indent was shifting his heart to the left and crushing the end of his trachea, the windpipe sending air to and from his lungs. Without surgery, the situation could get worse. With surgery, Kaden faced the possibility of death.
Despite this, Kaden and his parents trusted the doctors watching over him at the Children’s Hospital in Omaha. Kaden would undergo
the most painful operation performed in the building. The four hour Nuss Procedure. Two curved titanium bars, weighing a total of six pounds, would be inserted horizontally through his chest, pushing his sternum up to a normal shape. Stabilizers would be placed on the sides.
One of his doctor’s took time to brace him for the discomfort.
“Now, I don’t know you, I don’t know your entire life’s story, I don’t know what you’ve been through,” his doctor said. “I can just guarantee this is going to be the most painful thing you have ever been through in your entire life.”
At first Kaden felt uneasy about the process, but his grandparents came down for a special visit. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), Kaden knew that if his grandfather gave a blessing, it could help. He told Kaden three things.
You won’t be afraid.
Nothing bad will happen.
The recovery will be quick.
Afterwards, Kaden felt ready to get the surgery done. He went in it with confidence, but Ludlow was still scared.
“They’re going to take a metal rod and shove it through the chest wall of your son,” Ludlow explains.
Regardless, Kaden went through surgery in July in order to avoid missing school. Instead of the planned five, he stayed in the hospital for seven days. Stuck in bed, most of the time Kaden could only sleep, but it did not bring him much peace. He could not lay on his side. Instead, Kaden tried to rest on his back. His back tightened and caused him to cramp up, leaving it kinked for the next day. Not to mention, every six hours, a nurse woke him up to take medicine.
After the first two days, the doctors cut off Kaden’s morphine. The suffering weighed on him heavily, and Kaden broke down.
“I lost it,” he recalls.
Kaden sat in his the hospital bed, tears rolling down his face.
A large syringe of morphine was injected into his arm. Although he developed a pounding headache, Kaden finally fell asleep to eliminate the pain.
More moments of agony absorbed him. Only a few days in, Kaden once again became like the four year old boy, turning to his father hopelessly.
“Dad, this isn’t worth it. This isn’t worth it,” Kaden said.
“No, it’s not worth it,” Ludlow agreed.
The warnings did not prepare The Ludlow family for the torment Kaden experienced. He worked his way up to walking, but Kaden still struggled to do simple things, like going to the bathroom. The struggle didn’t just hurt him. It upset his father.
“Watching him go through the pain is much worse than we had anticipated. And you’re helpless because there’s nothing you can do except sit there and let nurses administer drugs,” Ludlow says.
Slowly, Kaden worked his way to getting better. Little moments of joy came from humorous hospital employees, family, and friends. Some boys from his church surprised him, bringing the video game Halo: Reach. They laughed as each stared at the television as it rolled into Kaden’s room by one of the nurses.
More friends came after them, helping Kaden escape boredom. Although he/she tried to cheer him up, they could see the procedure took a toll on him.
“He looked like his whole body felt weak and he was kind of pale,” friend Sebrina Houser says. “He’s usually more happy and talkative.”
After leaving the hospital, little changed. Kaden relaxed in a recliner facing the television, his parents bringing him food and other necessities. For a month, he stayed surrounded by the same scenery. Brown walls. Tan carpet. Chairs on one end, television on the other.
“I hate that chair now,” Kaden says, chuckling.
When his sophomore year started, Kaden nervously decided to go to school. Looking back, Ludlow thinks his son may not have been ready, but Kaden persevered regardless. Kaden’s body felt front-heavy, and each bump in the hallway brought pain, but most things went better than he had expected.
Yet, Kaden did not enjoy everything. As Kaden stood in the hallway, an old friend approached him.
“Hey man, what’s up,” he said, hitting Kaden in the shoulder.
“Well, I don’t like the kid anymore. I was like, ‘Go away,'” he says jokingly.
Now, seven months after the surgery, Kaden runs, lifts, and experiences little pain. In a year, Kaden’s bars will be removed, leaving him with a regular sternum. Because of his decision, Kaden sacrificed participating in pole vaulting for track and field, going ice skating with friends and participating in other activities that could pop his bars out of place. Kaden gave up multiple moments of fun, but he gave it up for a lifetime of better health.