Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

Luke’s Story–Thoracic Outlet Syndrome



Luke and I traveled to St. Louis, MO last month for what we hope to be the culmination of a four-year health journey for Luke. We traveled there for Luke to have surgery for what was finally diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Luke will write of this experience in his own words. 

For those of you who don’t know Luke, introduce you to him. Luke was born with a smile on his face that never stopped, always in a good mood, always positive. His strawberry hair and smile sparkled in the sun, whether the sun was out or not. Luke’s undiagnosed asthma had the two of us in the Emergency Room every month for two years, his ages one -three. His translucent skin slowly took on color as he took in oxygen and he came out of the semi-conscious state that these episodes brought on. He never complained. This kid is tough, tough, tough. 


Generous of spirit, Luke loved books, reading, exercise, and sports. When people asked me how Luke was doing in college, I said, “That kid will thrive anywhere. It’s just who he is.”

Luke on Mother’s Day, 2017





Finish line of marathon, 2016

Luke tells his story in his own words:

“Hi everyone! Thanks for taking a minute to read my story. I apologize if it’s a little shaky. I’m writing left-handed, while recovering from surgery. Don’t worry, I still have my right hand; my arm is just sore.

Like Mom said, this surgery was a long time coming. If you’ve met me over the past four years, you’ll know I’ve been struggling with a chronic and mysterious pain that doctors, until recently, were completely unable to diagnose.

The U of A has a wonderful Recreation Center, and I made a point to lift weights a few times a week. While I was a sophomore, I was bench-pressing the same weight that I always bench-pressed, when something in the right side of my chest gave and tore. I racked the weight, left the gym, and scheduled a doctor’s appointment. There, I was assured the issue was a minor shoulder strain that would heal on its own with time.

Long story short, it didn’t. I spent most of that semester unable to open doors or lift my arm above my head, waiting for the injury to heal. Every time I visited a doctor, I was told that with rest and time the injury would heal, and that I was really too young to be in this kind of pain anyways. That was a phrase I heard a lot “You’re really too young to be having this kind of issue.”


Years passed and the pain evolved, it went from being a muscular issue rooted deep in my chest to a burning pain that radiated up the entire right side of my neck and into my trapezoid muscles. It was motion-induced, which is to say that the more things I wanted or needed to do, the more pain I would be in by the end of the day. Activities that brought me pain included walking, sitting, lifting things, looking to my right, and just talking with people.

At this point, we were desperately looking for a doctor with an answer. We had appointments with orthopedic surgeons, and multiple pain specialists.  We traveled to the Mayo Clinic for a consultation. Almost every visit began with, “You’re too young to feel this way,” and ended with an order for some kind of medical scan, MRI’s, X-rays, EMGs: all tests to try and see some muscular or nerve issue. They all came back negative. At this point, we were trying everything we could think of, multiple courses of physical therapy, chiropractic treatments, orthopedic massage, acupuncture, CBD, a series of nerve ablations, and on and on. You name it and I have probably done it.


At this point, it had been about three years of searching for an answer, while spending every day in pain. I was both embittered at the medical profession, and hopeless that I would one day find an answer. I have my family, and Mom in particular, for never giving up on the hope of an answer.

Roughly sixth months ago, my doctors decided that all muscular issues were examined, we turned to the brain. Maybe, the theory went, my brain had just gotten used to firing off pain signals and hadn’t stopped, even after the muscle in my chest had healed. Working on this hypothesis, we met with a neurosurgeon here in Santa Fe.

I won’t disclose his name, but he was and a different kind of doctor than I was used to seeing, and I’d seen a lot. When I told him the story that I just told you, he didn’t say, “you’re too young to have this problem,” he said, “I’m sorry that you have this problem so young.” He ordered another scan, which was again, negative, and then said that in his opinion I couldn’t have anything but neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), and that he would refer me to a specialist clinic in St Louis, MO.

By this point, I was used to doctors developing a pet diagnosis for my problem that ended up being wrong. My personal favorite was one doctor’s diagnosis of early-onset-right-side-of-neck arthritis, for which I received weeks of treatment with absolutely no benefit. I’d learned to treat their theories with a bit of suspicion.

So, I looked up Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and the clinic in St. Louis, MO. I may also have read the book about Thoracic Outlet Syndrome written by the lead surgeon, just to be sure. What I found was encouraging.

I fit the patient profile exactly. Most TOS patients are young, otherwise healthy individuals with chronic pain induced by most activity. Most TOS patients bounce around the medical system for two or three years before receiving their TOS diagnosis, as the criteria for diagnosis is, get this, multiple negative medical scans. All those MRI’s and X-rays paid off after all.

Leaving for St. Louis

So, what is TOS, I now wanted to know. Well, it’s a condition that develops when the brachial plexus nerves, which run from you fingertips, up your arm, through your pectoral muscles and up into your neck and shoulder blades, are compressed by some obstruction. The obstruction can be anything, well, three things really. Either a permanent muscle spasm in the pectorals or scalene(neck) muscles, an odd growth on the first rib, or scar tissue built up from a previous injury.

Long story short, I had a video call with the lead surgeon who diagnosed me with TOS and scheduled me for surgery in St. Louis. Mom and I took what turned out to be a really wonderful road trip to the hospital, and I had my operation on April 2, 2021.

During the operation, the surgeon found a large amount of scar tissue around my pec minor, which he removed. Hopefully, this was the mysterious cause of the problem: the thing we’ve been looking for all these years. I’m still in recovery at the moment, and so it’s hard to tell if the new pain from the surgery is covering up the old pain, and where I’ll be in three months, but I can say that the burning pain, at the moment, is gone.

So, the story isn’t over, but hopefully this is the last chapter and we’ll have more good news for you soon. Before I go I’d like thank Mom for being the driving force behind my recovery. I definitely would not have made it through this experience without your help, and the help of all our family and friends, that’s all for now, thanks for reading!”

 This is Dawn again. Amidst all, Luke and I had a magical time together. Along the way, we were able to spend time with my Aunt Elaine (Dad’s sister) and cousins, Brian and Brett.


We made the most of the trip and saw some of the sights of St. Louis between Luke’s pre-op appointment and the day of the surgery.

We took in the Gateway Arch, as well as the Botanical Gardens. We played a lot of chess, drank a lot of Tension Tamer Tea, and crushed it on the Harry Potter Trivia cards.

We loved the Botanical Gardens. It was a cold day. We entered the dome and I said to Luke, “This is exactly like Costa Rica.”


We quickly shed our coats and wandered for an hour, taking in each exquisite plant, flower, waterfall, Chihuly glass sculpture, lizard, all. Pure magic.



During his surgery, I escaped (somewhat) into my dissertation.




Clearly, we needed flowers!


When not in the hospital, I worked on my dissertation.

St. Louis bloomed with daffodils during our time there. My color, flower-loving heart and spirit drank them in. A dear friend in Vermont mentioned how her daffodils had poked their blooms up through the snow that week, “They’re so resilient.” These are the perfect flowers to be blooming during Luke’s surgery, I thought. Luke’s resiliency throughout this journey never ceases to leave me humbled and inspired.

Six days after surgery, Luke was discharged and we headed home.


One day Luke will write his full story. One day, I will write the mother’s story of this journey. For now, we focus on his healing and we hope.

When Wyatt was two-years-old, he called me ‘the Mommy Lady’ and I’ve been the Mommy Lady ever since. This Mommy Lady’s heart overflows with gratitude for a diagnosis at long-last and with optimism for what lies ahead for Luke.

Mostly, this Mommy Lady’s heart overflows with love for the brave soul I am fortunate enough to walk through this life with as my son. Here’s to the next chapter, Luke. I know you will write it well.


Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

27 thoughts on “Luke’s Story–Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

  1. Is there anyway that I can get into communication with Luke? I feel as if I am in the same boat. I injured what I thought to be (my shoulder) bench pressing 4 months ago. Took some time off, received an MRI on my shoulder which said everything was fine and normal. I’ve been going to physical therapy for 4 months and they are saying the same things to me (work on your posture, neck muscles etc) but I am a very active, fit person who has better posture than 99% of the people I meet. My pain has not gone away and actually starts under my right collar bone. I have pain that started in my bicep tendon that now radiates to my forearm. I had some numbness early on in my injury but that went away. I now have a strange vein that is very hard and I’m not sure if it’s from a blood clot or not. I think have TOS and my physical therapists know I have something related to nerves. I have severe tightness and pain in my neck, and upper back. My shoulder blade is a bit winged on the right side which I have been training fot 4 months to correct (It can only be nerves). I have an appointment scheduled with a neurology center at the end of the month but this is the first story I have read that actually matches mine. Most people developed symptoms randomly or from a car accident, but this is the story I have been non stop googling for.

  2. how do you buy a blog🌞 😎 2021-06-19 18h 41min

  3. Dear Dawn and Luke, Thank you for sharing the agony and the beauty of Luke’s journey. This story is so well written by each of you. One can almost feel the pain, and four years is a long time to go through that. I would never have guessed. He always looks so healthy in the pictures….running with his Mom, etc. But even through his pain, yes, that smile was always there. I think that was for you, Mama! Your love for each other is so obvious and so heartfelt. Prayers for both of you as you continue on the healing journey! Much love to all of your family! You are all so special.

  4. Yaya, I just love how Luke’s fierceness has developed with your constant modeling…you are one BADASS mama!

  5. Such a wonderful story of a mother’s love and never giving up on finding an answer.

  6. Dearest Dawn, I loved hearing about this journey. Wow, six days in the hospital is a long stay in this modern hospital era. They say injuries radiating through the shoulders can be most painful and from my own experience, I can believe it. Luke, glad you’re on the mend because, “You’re much too young to feel this way”. Thank you Luke for your contributions to DewDrops. Dawn, you’re a great mom!

    Much Love, Dan

  7. Thank you, dear Dawn and Luke, for sharing this amazing story and those spectacular pictures. I’m sending tons of love and positive energy your way. Your fortitude and most importantly your smiles are an inspiration. XOXO Liz

  8. God will continue providing solutions for a total recovery . Love, love and only love can make it all!

  9. You are so sweet. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I was reading this story. Thanks for sharing. Currently I’m home visiting my mama as she has been enduring covid all by herself. Yes, my brother is here but he lives in San Jose and with the restrictions is harder to come and visit. Luckly I was allowed to come for a few weeks and work from here.

    In any case, thanks for the shout-out to CR in the story it moved my heart.

    I will ask you, if you can share with me the name of the SF neuro as Jack has hit every door with his pain … even the Mayo came with a lame diagnosis and I would like to see if he would even try to explore why Jack is in so much pain (constantly). I’m happy that Luke is not feeling the burning pain anymore and I’m hopeful that in a few months he will feel back to “normal”.

    Gracias por siempre compartir.


  10. Sending healing prayers.

  11. Thank you for sharing your inspirational and heartbreaking story with us, Luke and Dawn. It is so beautifully written. Prayers for a speedy recovery, Luke!!

    Janet xo

  12. So so happy for a path to healing. Judi

    Sent from my iPhone

    Judigoolsbyartist.com Y”All…painted memories of the South

    Make The Most Of Every Day…It”s A Gift!


  13. Thank you, Luke, for sharing your quest for healing. It will encourage many others on their own quest. I’m not sure why our medical system makes problem solving so hard. Keep on pursuing your healing journey. I look forward to hearing the “rest of the story”!
    Healing Hugs,
    Charlotte Whitcomb

  14. Wishing you nothing but brighter days ahead Luke. So thankful you found the right doctor at last. Stay healthy and enjoy your!!

  15. This is such an uplifting story! Best wishes to Luke on his recovery. I spent my entire adult life (until retirement) in St. Louis, so I’m glad you made it to both the Arch and the Missouri Botanical Garden. If you ever go back, check out the zoo. Admission is free (although you pay through the wazoo for parking).

  16. Mother/son Mother/sun…precious to the core. A deep bow, 💜

    On Sun, Apr 25, 2021 at 4:31 AM Dawn Wink: Dewdrops wrote:

    > Dawn Wink posted: ” Luke and I traveled to St. Louis, MO last month for > what we hope to be the culmination of a four-year health journey for Luke. > We traveled there for Luke to have surgery for what was finally diagnosed > as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Luke will write of this ” >

  17. Wow Luke that is quite a journey. So happy to hear you are finally getting to resolution. Of course I knew you have an exceptional mama. Blessings to all.

  18. Hi Dawn, the resiliency manifested in both Luke’s and your smile is inspirational. What a story of perseverance and hope. I wish your son a full recovery and a new life after surgery. May you both continue to provide each other with strength and love. Thank you for sharing such a profoundly personal story and I hope you will both be able to write your versions of this journey with a good end and that you continue to manifest those beautiful smiles.

  19. Thanks for sharing your journey to (hopefully) get Luke healed. You reminded me of my own mom, who passed several years ago, fought hard for each of her kids to get what we needed. It’s so important to have someone who cares at your side when you meet challenges. Blessings and continued healing for you both!

  20. I loved reading this so much! Well written Luke and thank you for sharing your story! Continued prayers for health and healing!

  21. Dear Dawn and Luke, I am so saddened by the long journey, but thrilled with the Dagnosis finally coming and now possible recovery and taking on the World with Joy and vigor!!

  22. Just…wow!
    Thank you for sharing, Dawn and Luke. Best wishes for a positive resolution.
    -Laura Carthy

  23. I can’t tell you how happy I feel that you finally found out what has been causing you so much pain. You and your mom are true championship for one another, and thank you for sharing your journey. I have three sons in their late twenties and as a mother, I can only imagine what you both have gone through. When your child hurts, you hurt too! One of my twins was born with a thoracic ring around his aorta (he basically had two aortas), and it took doctors a year before they were able to diagnose and do heart surgery at 14 months of age.
    Your mom and i worked together for a short while and while I don’t know her well, I always liked her smile, kindness and positive nature. I consider her a friend.
    Take good care of yourselves,
    Anna Marie

  24. Oh Dawn and Luke,

    What a wonderful path forward you both shared, full of inspiration in the search for full medical healing and wellness. Thank you for sharing about this important revelation. I will share with my own son, who has had a shoulder injury and surgery from throwing discus during high school. My brother-in-law, too, as a triathlete over 60 years old, ices his upper body almost every single day due to decades of unwavering pain in his shoulder area and neck.

    Luke, yours is an important experience to share with others who may be having similar symptoms. And Dawn, the ultimate mother, showing your support and fighting for your children without pause.

    Thank you both for being willing to enlighten us all.

    Be well and my prayers for continued healing,


  25. Dawn my heart goes out to you and your son and your simultaneous difficult health journeys! What a few years you’ve all been through! I’m so happy to read he appears to have found a cure. What an absolute nightmare experience. And he’s a great writer too! No surprise there!
    Thanks for the burst of positivity this morning!
    Ps—were finally headed to NM this summer! 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼

    Sent from my iPhone

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