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February 7, 2012 > Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery Offers Fewer Complications

Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery Offers Fewer Complications

Seminar Focuses on Leading-Edge Procedures and Heart Healthy Diet

About 27 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requiring many to undergo open heart surgery to repair the damage caused by the disease. But new minimally invasive techniques have made it possible for some patients to avoid open heart surgery and the long recovery times that go with it.

"Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for both men and women, but many people with heart disease are experiencing better outcomes due to advances in surgery," said Dr. Jon-Cecil Walkes, chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Washington Hospital, who pioneered a minimally invasive surgical technique for repairing or replacing the heart valve.

February is American Heart Month, a good time to think about your heart health. You can join Walkes for an upcoming seminar titled "Heart of the Matter: Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery and Nutrition." He will talk about some of the newer surgical procedures while Lorie Roffelsen, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital, will offer guidelines for a heart healthy diet after surgery.

The free seminar is scheduled for Tuesday, February 14, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. Register online at or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

Heart disease is a general term for a variety of heart ailments, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, congenital heart disease, and heart valve disease. A major cause of heart disease is the buildup of plaque on the artery walls, which blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, Walkes said. Plaque is made from substances in the blood, including cholesterol, fat, and calcium.

Shorter Recovery

Walkes will talk about the minimally invasive heart valve procedure he helped to pioneer. The procedure can be used to either repair or replace the mitral valve, which controls the flow of blood.

Instead of one large incision down the middle of the chest for open heart surgery, the minimally invasive procedure is performed through two-inch incisions on the right side of the chest. The surgeon reaches between the ribs with small instruments rather than cracking open the breastbone to access the heart.

"Minimally invasive surgery offers a number of benefits, including shorter recovery times, less scaring, and less blood loss," he said. "Patients are able to get back on their feet much quicker."

Walkes will also discuss "off pump" coronary bypass surgery, sometimes needed to bypass blocked arteries. While coronary bypass surgery used to be performed "on pump" with the heart stopped and a machine pumping the blood, more often surgeons are performing the surgery with the heart still beating on its own, called "off pump."

"It's much better to have the heart beat naturally during surgery," he said. "We are seeing less memory loss and shorter hospital stays with the off-pump procedure."

Eat with TLC

While it's important for everyone to eat a heart healthy diet to avoid heart disease, it is critical for heart disease patients, according to Roffelsen. She will discuss dietary guidelines established by the American Heart Association as well as the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet created by the National Institutes of Health's National Cholesterol Education Program.

Both the Heart Association and TLC guidelines call for more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products, and less processed and prepared foods. But the TLC guidelines are more restrictive to help people with heart disease lower their cholesterol and blood pressure, Roffelsen explained.

"People who have had a cardiac procedure need to be more diligent about their diets," she said. "Reducing the amount of salt and unhealthy fat you consume is critical."

The TLC guidelines cut the amount of saturated fat to just 7 percent of daily calories, she said. The target for total fat is no more than 35 percent of daily calories. Cholesterol intake should be kept below 200 milligrams a day.

"Exercise is also part of a heart healthy lifestyle," Roffelsen added. "The TLC guidelines call for 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week."

Washington Hospital offers a number of resources for people with heart disease. To learn more about the hospital's Heart Program, visit

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