Successful 'heart reshaping' surgery is first in the U.S.

For the Mirror

A surgical team at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, part of the same network of hospitals that includes St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, has become the first in the United States to successfully operate on a heart in a way that experts say could radically change treatment for patients with congestive heart failure.

Dr. Wendel Smith surgically entered a patient’s heart through a single, three-inch incision between the ribs in order to reshape the left ventricle and improve the heart’s pumping action.

The three-hour surgery in April was the first in the nation in which “heart reshaping” surgery was successfully performed by entering the patient’s chest through a relatively minor incision, rather than the standard process of cutting through the sternum (breast bone) and spreading open the rib cage.

For the patient, this less-invasive approach means less pain and fewer scars, Smith said.

“We’ve eliminated the need for the large sternal incision associated with traditional cardiac surgical procedures,” said Smith, a cardiovascular surgeon and medical director for research and education at the St. Joseph Heart Center. “The benefits of this minimally invasive approach are that the patient suffers less pain, breathes more easily during and after the operation, and has fewer scars after the healing process.”

The procedure has been used in some European countries.

As part of the surgery, a patented synthetic cone-shaped sizer –– designed to recreate the ideal ventricle shape ––- is placed inside the patient’s left ventricle, and healthy heart muscle is re-sewn around the device. Just before the operation ends, the sizer is collapsed and removed and a permanent patch is placed over the incision to reinforce the ventricle.

“Restoring ideal ventricle size and strengthening the muscle wall can dramatically improve the quality of life for patients who suffer from congestive heart failure,” said Smith.

Smith’s patient, a man in his 50s, required no pain pills only three days after surgery -–– a much shorter time than usual. The patient has since been released from the hospital and is doing well.

Congestive heart failure is a debilitating condition that can occur following a heart attack in which the heart becomes an oversized, inefficient pump. This creates a buildup of fluids in the lungs and a swelling of the extremities that seriously impact the patient’s life. In the U.S., congestive heart failure affects more than 5 million people annually and is responsible for $30 billion in related healthcare costs every year, according to officials.

“In the milestone surgery, Smith used the newest ventricular sizer designed by CHF Technologies of Danville, Calif..

St. Joseph, along with St. Francis, is part of the three-hospital Franciscan Health System.

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