Robotic Surgery Expands To Cardiac Care At Spectrum Health

Minimally Invasive Valve Repair Being Done At Fred And Lena Meijer Heart Center

The use of robotically-assisted minimally invasive surgery at Spectrum Health has expanded to treat patients with cardiovascular disease at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center. More than 15 robotic cardiac surgeries have been performed at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center

Cardiothoracic surgeons Edward Murphy, MD, and Charles Willekes, MD, have been performing minimally invasive chest surgery for several years. Recently they began using the da Vinci surgical robot for cardiac surgery operations, including mitral valve repairs.

The robotic system offers patients a different, minimally invasive approach. It incorporates a state-of-the-art surgical system that allows a surgeon to perform cardiac procedures by operating through small incisions in the chest wall between the ribs.’ This new method involves many of the same steps as open heart surgery but typically eliminates the steps that result in a painful recovery.

“I’m pleased that we can now repair mitral valves for certain patients using a minimally invasive cardiac surgery procedure,” said Murphy, who spearheaded the program at the Meijer Heart Center. “Even complex mitral valve reconstructions are possible. This approach offers a number of potential benefits over traditional open chest heart surgery including less pain and scarring but the speed of recovery is most dramatic. Patients are able to leave the hospital with no restrictions on their activity.”

In contrast, open heart surgery performed in the traditional manner involves dividing the breastbone. Patients are required to not lift more and 10 to 20 pounds for the first three months of recovery.

Murphy said this procedure is appropriate for select patients but that traditional open chest surgery is still the primary method used at Spectrum Health and other heart centers across the country. “This approach is proving to be another valuable tool for us and can be beneficial for some patients. In addition to mitral valve repairs, the da Vinci has been used at Spectrum Health to remove a cardiac tumor and repair holes in the heart.”

Robotic heart surgery requires surgeons to have advanced training and the support of a surgical team also trained to support this surgery. In Michigan, this cutting-edge surgery is only offered at the Meijer Heart Center and in suburban Detroit.

“In addition to a less traumatic approach for patients, I find that this system gives me an excellent view of the surgical site and tremendous control of the instruments,” said Willekes. “I can see the field in 3D and it is magnified 10 times normal. The robot is designed to be able to mimic the movements of my hands and wrists, giving me excellent flexibility and control when operating on delicate tissue.”

The daVinci Surgical System is operated by a surgeon sitting a few feet away from the patient at a console.’ Using a high-powered camera, the surgeon guides the arms of the robot that holds surgical tools which are inserted into the patient through small, keyhole-sized incisions.’ The robot’s highly accurate instruments allow the surgeon to move his own hands-and the robot’s-to conduct precise movements with extraordinary control and range of motion.

The mitral valve is the inflow valve into the left side of the heart. It closes when the left ventricle of the heart contracts to pump oxygen-rich blood through the body.’ A leaking mitral valve allows blood to flow backward and severe leaking can be associated with symptoms of shortness of breath or fatigue. Because severe leaking can weaken the heart’s ability to pump blood, early surgical correction of this condition is recommended.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and Priority Health, a health plan with nearly 500,000 members. Spectrum Health’s 14,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.’ The organization provided $111.1 million in community benefit during its 2008 fiscal year. As a system, Spectrum Health has earned more than 100 awards during the past 10 years. More news about Spectrum Health is available at