New alternative for heart bypass

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 20, 2008 3:09:49 PM PDT
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking almost 700,000 lives each year. For some, heart bypass surgery to fix blocked arteries is the only option. But fear of a bloody, invasive surgery is no longer a reason to avoid the procedure. Now, there is an option that has you from the operating room to your living room in as little as two days.Mick Foster couldn't even go for a walk with his girlfriend without worrying about having another heart attack.

"My life expectancy would probably have been early 50s," he said.

By 40, Mick had survived two heart attacks and his chest pains returned. His choices, bypass surgery or live with a ticking time bomb in his chest.

"I could never get past the idea of chest open, people's hands inside there playing around," he said.

Doctors presented another option -- minimally invasive direct coronary artery bypass, or midcab.

"It's radically different than conventional bypass surgery," said Dr. Stephen Ball, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Instead of cutting open the entire chest, surgeons make a small incision on the left side of the rib cage. They use the mammary artery to reroute blood to the heart. Suction cups stabilize the heart as surgeons sew the bypass graft while the heart is still beating. At Vanderbilt University, it's now being used for multi-bypass surgery.

"My hope would be that almost all of the bypass surgery can be done with this minimally invasive approach," Dr. Ball said.

In midcab, the incision is three to five inches. The heart beats on its own and recovery takes about two weeks.

"I could never have done this about two, three years ago," Mick said. "I can breathe now. I can talk now."

After surgery, Mick felt like a new man.

"If I get to 75, I'm happy," he said. "As long as i get my 401K!"

Only a small number of hospitals will use the minimally invasive approach for multi-vessel bypass. There is a lower infection rate with the midcab surgery, and it's about 25 percent less expensive than traditional bypass surgery.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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