Dr. Bartley Griffith (far left) and other UM cardiac surgeons remove and reconstruct a woman's heart to halt tumor growth. This first-of-its-kind procedure is an example of the innovations Maryland Heart Center physicians are known for.
New technology is revolutionizing the way surgeons treat heart problems. Internationally known heart surgeon Bartley Griffith, M.D., the chief of cardiac surgery at University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, talks about the exciting advances that have occurred and the positive impact these have had on patient care in the following interview.
Talk about some of the technological advances that are changing the way you are able to help your patients who need heart surgery.
It's been an amazing ride for heart surgery. It's only been around for 30 years. And if you think about any other industry, such as the aircraft industry, how much time it really has taken to go from the Wright brothers to the 747, and you compare that time frame to the field of heart surgery, a lot has happened in a very short time. In the late 60's it was a miracle to do a heart surgery on anybody and expect survival. Today, we have been able to amass tremendous experience and new technologies as you mentioned, such that the average patient undergoing heart surgery today is not only expected to live but only less than one in 100 is not expected to survive.
One of the big changes in the last few years is the move to minimally invasive surgeries, smaller incisions, all kinds of technical advances and devices.
We used to have a saying in surgery, the bigger the better. The bigger the incision, the more you could do. That's not gone over well with our population of candidate patients. So we learned in fact that we can do an amazing amount of heart surgery through very small incisions. The key technological breakthrough to facilitate that has been the use of fiber-optic telescopes to place the heart on a screen in front of us and enlarge the size of that heart by a factor of two and three and have plasma screen-type definition of what we are working on. So we can work at the end of a very small tunnel, a small wound, if you wish, and create basically a platform to repair a valve or actually stitch an artery on the heart in a way that we actually can see better than we could when we could hold the heart in our hand.
How do these fiber-optic telescopes work?
It’s inserted through the chest wall. In doing so, it connects to a kind of a special video player or camera that will record the images and put them up on the screen, watching what's going on. The surgeon often is not even looking at the patient but looking at the screen, while his or her hands are working in the wound. It's quite a change in how we have approached things. In the past we used big incisions and we basically had to put our hands down into the holes to make our stitches go where we wanted them.