UA Medical Center performs breakthrough surgery five times - Tucson News Now

UA Medical Center performs breakthrough surgery five times

John Hulslander & his wife Ellen (Source: UAMC) John Hulslander & his wife Ellen (Source: UAMC)
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

University of Arizona surgeons have completed five groundbreaking surgeries using a robot to implant a heart pump device.

They started back in May, when surgeons Dr. Zain Khalpey and Dr. Robert Poston became the first to implant a left ventricular assist device using the surgical robot in John Hulslander, 67, who was losing his battle with ischemiccardiomyopathy.  The UA says four more patients have undergone the robotic procedure since then at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

"Nobody in the world is doing this and we have done five of them," said Dr. Khalpey, surgical director of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at UAMC. "The patients are all doing smashingly."

Hulslander became critically ill in December 2012, and visited the hospital 14 times between then and April 2013. His heart was failing and his kidneys were shutting down. Doctors near his home in Phoenix said he was too sick for surgery, but they sent him to UAMC in Tucson.

"It was do this or die," said Hulslander, who is retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and theU.S. Navy.

Hulslanderneeded a ventricular-assist device implanted in his chest to pump blood for his dying heart while he waited for a heart transplant. However, Hulslander's case was complicated; he had no sternum – a serious infection following quadruple bypass in 1997 resulted in its removal.  Doctors say the pectoralis muscle flap used to repair his infected sternum had become "plastered" to his heart, making any repeat heart surgery nearly impossible and something that most other centers would not attempt.

Hulslander was a prime candidate for using the surgical robot called "Da Vinci," which does not require opening the chest.  The robot implanted the pump through small incisions between the ribs. The procedure preserved his muscle flap for when he will have a heart transplant. Because the sternum was infected from the prior surgery, this approach dramatically reduced the risks of massive blood loss and injury to the heart.

The surgical team also implanted a new-generation, smaller ventricular assist device called the HVAD Pump.  It's powered by a lightweight, highly efficient battery that he wears in a pack around his waist. Patients with the device can leave home for up to six hours, and plug back into a power source at home.

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