Open Heart Surgery With No Open Chest

Look around you and you'll likely see someone who's had a problem with his or her heart. It's just that common. Fortunately, open-heart surgery has come a long way.

Ida Foraker, of Enfield, learned that first hand. "I didn't have very much pain at all. It was mostly just discomfort."

The discomfort was dissolved with a Tylenol but what Ida didn't know until recently, was that she was born with a hole in her heart that was causing frightening palpitations.

"It was pretty scary sometimes to have that happen because it would just race so fast that you didn't know what the next breath was going to be," she said.

If left untreated, Ida would have been at high-risk for suffering a stroke.

Her doctor said she needed open-heart surgery to correct the problem but the surgery was not what she expected.

"The incision is about 2 to 3 inches," Dr. William Martinez, a cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Francis Hospital, said.

That's a big difference compared to the way open-heart surgery has been performed in the past. 

Martinez said, "Traditionally, we would have to divide the sternum, which is the breastbone, and so the incision would basically be the length of the sternum," approximately 12 inches.

Surgeons at St. Francis Hospital were the first in Connecticut to do minimally invasive heart surgery this way. Now it’s commonly used to fix valve problems and holes in the heart.

"It's a great new tool we have for people," Martinez said. And recovery from this procedure is a big advancement from typical open-heart surgery.

"With this procedure, outside of pain there are no limitations whatsoever... They can get back to work whenever they feel they're able to get back to work." Martinez said most patients feel much better within two weeks.

It was hard for Ida to believe after witnessing her husband's double bypass surgery about 10 years ago.

"Oh, I think it's just a miracle. It just blows your mind to know they can do this on such a small scale," she said. Since the surgery, she's already noticed the heart racing has nearly stopped. She's thankful for that.

"I know my limits. I know what I can do and what I can't do," she said.

Martinez said, in the next 10 years, he expects the incision to get even smaller.

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