In 1979 I was about seven years old, and my baby brother was about a year old. He had just arrived home from the hospital after his first open heart surgery. He had been in the hospital for weeks and I remember being curious about the red incision with random black stitches cris-crossing the length of it. He cried while my mom changed his diaper, and I remember feeling guilty that he had to bear such misery as an infant. He was born with congenital heart defects; a hole in his heart and a defective pulmonary valve. He would go on to have six open heart surgeries by the age of thirty. He is thirty-two now, and his heart is failing. A series of miracles have kept him alive all these years, because let's face it; all of these heart surgeries and procedures are little miracles. Are there more in store for him? I hope so, but only God knows that.
I witnessed my brother go through some brutal surgeries in the 80's. They saved his life but they seem barbaric compared to open heart surgery today. Those surgeries in the 80's seemed to first deflate his soul, and then slowly and painfully he would come back to life.
My own recent open heart surgery was nothing like I saw my brother endure as a child. Times have changed and science has progressed. When I woke up from my open heart surgery last year I expected to feel searing pain in my sternum. I felt no pain. I expected to see a big red scar with black stitches criss crossing it. Instead I saw a thin red line with no stitches (they glue you back together on the outside.) I expected to be in the hospital for a couple weeks. I was walking on the second day and my surgeon sent me home on the fifth day. I figured I would be weak and feeble the rest of my life or at least confined to limited activity. I ran a marathon a year after open heart surgery.
Open heart surgery today is expansive. Thousands of open heart surgeries are done for common conditions, and on the cutting edge doctors are doing heart transplants with longer survival rates, keeping people alive with LVADs and other devices, and pushing the envelope with new procedures and technologies.
Years ago I would not have been able to have a "valve sparing" aortic repair. They would have cut out the aneurysm and replaced the valve too. Everyday there are new developments in the field of cardiac surgery. They are miracles because the heart itself is a miracle. It's an organ in which the plumbing and function can be explained, but its deepest complexities still leave doctors and scientists baffled.
- Dr. Batista in Brazil has been performing a new procedure for heart patients with enlarged hearts due to heart failure. In the past these patients would end up dying or get a heart transplant if they were lucky. Dr. Batista's procedure provides a possible alternative. In layman's terms he merely cuts out a slice of the enlarged heart to bring it back to normal proportions in attempt to make it stronger. Evidence of long term success is limited, but the fact that a doctor in the U.S. at the Cleveland Clinic has begun performing the procedure is promising.
- Scientists are growing human hearts in laboratories, offering hope for millions of cardiac patients. In 2007, British doctors grew a human heart valve using stem cells taken from a patient’s bone marrow.
- Dr. Allan Stewart has developed a novel minimally invasive aortic arch replacement. This hybrid endovascular procedure involves a shortened and minimally invasive means of both surgical repair and thoracic stent grafting, and can solve complex aneurysmal problems during a single trip to the operating room.
- Artificial and Biological valve procedures and options are in the dozens.
- Stent procedures and minimally invasive surgeries are common.