July 18, 2008

Robotic Heart Surgery a Less Invasive Option

By Vallery Brown, The Oklahoman

Jul. 18--The da Vinci Surgical System may look like it came from the belly of a space ship, but the cutting edge machine offers surgeons an upper hand that is proving beneficial for patients and doctors.

Though only a handful of facilities in the state use robot-assisted surgery, Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City is using the technology to perform less invasive heart surgeries, including mitral valve repair and replacement, the correction of defects inside the heart, and simple bypass surgeries.

"I was skeptical about what this does and I was very gratified to find out that this allows us to do a much better job of repairing mitral valves than we had ever done before," said Dr. Mark Bodenhamer, a cardiac surgeon at the hospital.

Less bleeding, scarring and infection risk The mitral valve controls blood flow through the left side of the heart, and abnormalities to the valve are traditionally repaired by sawing through the breastbone and spreading the patient's ribs for open access to the heart.

With the use of robotics, Bodenhamer is able to repair valves by entering through three small incisions just below the patient's right arm. The smaller incisions, less than a dime's width in size, mean less bleeding, less scarring and less risk for infection.

What are the downsides? Though the benefits are many, the equipment comes with a high price tag. The robot itself costs about $2 million dollars and every nurse, technician, and doctor who works with it must be trained.

Also, not everyone can qualify to be a candidate for the robotic heart procedure. Some women, for example, can be ruled out as candidates because their breasts can create impediments to the access points where the robotic arms are inserted. Obese patients often present the same challenge.


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