Beating Heart Surgery

This year, 170,000 Americans will have coronary bypass surgery. It’s a life-saving, yet stressful procedure. A new kind of open-heart surgery is said to be easier on the patient.

Two months ago, you wouldn’t find Bill on a treadmill. His extracurricular activities included smoking cigarettes and eating fast food. A heart attack changed that. Bill says, “I was terrified — wasn’t scared. I was terrified.”

To repair Bill’s two clogged arteries, Dr. Schiro performed a new procedure called beating heart surgery. “Beating heart surgery enables us to work on the surface of the heart and do coronary artery bypass surgery with the heart beating,” says Dr. Schiro, a cardiothoracic surgeon.

The key is a tool called the “Cohn Stabilizer.” Once the chest is opened, the stabilizer is placed on the heart. As it presses against the organ, it immobilizes the area being repaired. “While the rest of the heart beats, we can work on that stilled area and sew in a bypass graft,” says Dr. Schiro.

During traditional bypass surgery, the heart is stopped. Machines keep the blood pumping, but the process is rough on the patient and can damage healthy blood cells. Dr. Schiro says, “Those destroyed blood cells have to be replaced, and you have to do that with transfusions.”

Only 20 percent of beating heart patients require transfusions compared to 70 percent of traditional bypass surgery patients.

Since his surgery, Bill has had a change of heart about his old habits. He says, “My new hobby, daily, is staying alive.”

Other benefits of beating heart surgery include less expense, shorter recovery time, lower risk of stroke and less post-operative depression.

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