Heart Surgery Without Skipping A Beat

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Sparks Regional Medical Center is offering an innovative surgical procedure at its accredited Chest Pain Center.

David Miller, a cardiologist for Sparks Health System, helped discover the technique that allows surgeons to perform bypass surgery on blocked coronary arteries without having to put the patient on the heart-lung bypass machine.

Surgeons use a special device to stabilize the part of the heart on which they're operating allowing the heart to continue beating and circulating blood throughout the procedure. Miller said performing surgery on a beating heart reduces complications caused by stopping the heart as is done in traditional heart surgery.

James Irvan from Van Buren recently underwent the procedure at Sparks. He survived two previous heart attacks, but his chest pain continued.

"The best way I can describe it is someone has one of those little bitty propane blow torches and just set it right against your chest and light it," Irvan said of his chest pain.

The pain made it hard to breathe and left him unable to work. He soon found himself in Miller's officer, and the doctor explained the concept of the "beating heart surgery."

"I just figured it's got to be less stressful on your body because if they shut your heart down, that means they've got to start it back," said Irvan.

Miller said not using a heart-lung bypass machine significantly reduces the patient's risk for infection, need for blood transfusion and other complications. He said this leads to a quicker recovery for his patients.

"Once I came up here to this room, it was just a matter of hours and I was literally wanting to get up and move," said Irvan.

However, he did have heart surgery so there is some downtime. Since Irvan's chest was cracked open and rewired shut during the surgery, he has a heart-shaped pillow he'll use to press against his chest when he coughs.

Irvan, a longtime smoker, says the pillow will also serve as a daily reminder to not pick up his old habit. He says he's eager to get back to work painting and fixing up homes.

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