An approach that can reduce the risks of heart surgery

At technologically advanced hospitals, heart surgeons have the tools and skills to perform heart surgery through very small incisions.

Known as “minimally invasive” surgery, this technique often results in less bleeding, less pain, reduced risk of infection, shorter recovery times and a much smaller, less visible scar.

With a minimally invasive approach, recovery from heart surgery can be shorter because your surgeon does not necessarily need to cut through the breast bone to open your chest. Rather than a ten-inch incision, the procedure is performed through tiny incisions between your ribs or through a partial cut in the breastbone.

Often the surgeon inserts a small scope carrying a high-definition video camera through one of the incisions to provide a view of the surgical site. These clear, magnified images are displayed on screens throughout the operating room as the surgeon guides instruments through the small holes to perform the operation.

Minimally invasive heart surgery can be used for valve repair and treatment, heart defect repair and treatment, tumor removal, coronary bypass surgeries (including “off-pump” by-pass), MAZE surgery (to treat atrial fibrillation) and other procedures as recommended by your surgeon.

Robotic surgery is a specialized type of minimally invasive heart surgery that incorporates robotic arms for very precise movement of the surgical tools.

You may hear this surgery referred to as da Vinci surgery based on the name of the robotic device’s manufacturer. Your surgeon performs robotic surgery from a remote console where he can view your heart in 3D on a magnified high definition monitor. Your surgeon’s hand movements at the console are precisely duplicated by the robotic arms at the operating table where an additional surgeon as well as surgical assistants change the surgical instruments on the robotic arms.

Just as with traditional open heart surgery, during minimally invasive heart surgeries a heart-lung machine may be used to divert blood from your heart. Anesthesia is also used.

While some complications are reduced with the minimally invasive approach, the procedure does carry risks similar to traditional heart surgery including bleeding, heart attack, stroke, and wound infection

With minimally invasive heart surgery, you can expect to return to your normal activities more quickly than with traditional heart surgery. Because of the approach, you will likely have less pain, less scarring and less chance of infection.

Your surgeon will determine if a minimally invasive approach, including robotic surgery, is appropriate for your case. Your age, overall health and medical history are important factors. If you have had prior heart surgeries or heart disease, you may not be a candidate for the minimally invasive approach.

Lazar is Medical Director of Susquehanna Health’s Heart and Vascular Institute. He is a cardiothoracic surgeon performing surgeries of the heart, lungs and chest as part of the Susquehanna Health Cardiothoracic Surgery practice at Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

Specializing in heart bypass surgery including beating heart bypass surgery, aortic and mitral valve repair and replacement, lung resection and advanced aortic surgery, Dr. Lazar is also highly skilled and trained in minimally invasive surgical approaches and robotic assisted surgery. He is a graduate of New Jersey Medical School, completed his residency at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a fellowship at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Lazar is board certified in cardiothoracic surgery.