Patients laud less invasive heart surgery

Local,Therese Umerlik
Cracking open his chest, harvesting leg veins and wiring his chest closed again — the procedure sounded more like medieval torture than the traditional surgery to correct blocked arteries.

“Something’s wrong here,” said Barry Anderson, a 65-year-old Havre de Grace resident who went searching for an alternative to that type of invasive heart surgery.

Anderson ignored the advice of his surgeon to undergo the traditional heart surgery. Instead, he researched minimally invasive surgery using robots and reached out to Dr. Johannes Bonatti, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Bonatti, who took the job in July,  identified Anderson as a good candidate for the surgery, and Anderson was immediately put at ease by Bonatti’s humble, relaxed presence.

In September he had surgery to bypass and stent two arteries that were almost completely blocked.

Using a robot, Bonatti makes a few small incisions to bypass blocked arteries.

No cracked chest.  No restrictions on how much weight Anderson could carry after the surgery. Only a few days of discomfort and a week of physical therapy. Two weeks later, he was driving a car.

“I was stunned,” Anderson said.

The minimally invasive surgery drastically reduces recovery time. Patients can be back to their normal activity in two to three weeks, Bonatti said.

“I have patients that have been on their mountain bikes 10 days after surgery,” he said.

The minimally invasive procedure reduces hospital stay to about four days, down from seven, according to a University of Maryland study published in the October 2008 edition of Annals of Surgery.

Although the robot procedure costs about $8,000 more, those costs are offset by shorter stays and a reduced need for transfusions or readmittance from complications, researchers found.

Charles Pugh, Bonatti’s first patient at the University of Maryland, was back at work teaching at Towson University five weeks after the surgery in July.

Pugh admitted he was a little intimidated by the robot, but said the surgical team was “well-coordinated.”

At 70, he wasn’t sure he could handle the invasive open heart surgery. But a few days after the surgery, he was already beginning to rebuild his energy.

“We hoped that it would be that quick,” he said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
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