Community Memorial

Robotic Valve and Bypass Surgery Patient Story

Pioneering Procedure Right in Our Backyard: Germantown cardiac patient receives rare robotic valve and bypass surgery

Don Marlow imageGermantown resident Don Marlow had been unwell for weeks. He felt tired all the time, was often short of breath and was troubled by numbness in his arm.

Don and his wife, Marlene, visited family physician Elizabeth Ciurlik, MD.

"The doctor knew right away that I had a problem with my heart," Don said.

Don had a stress test followed by a catheterization to check the blood flow in the coronary arteries. Cardiologist Richard Wakefield, MD, diagnosed Don with severe mitral regurgitation, a "leaky valve" causing a backflow of blood within his heart. He also discovered a 90 percent blockage in Don's left anterior descending coronary artery, the heart's most important blood vessel. Don would need heart bypass surgery.

Individually, each problem can often be treated using minimally invasive surgical techniques. Together, however, they almost always require traditional open-chest surgery.

Don was apprehensive. He was 75 years old and was already being slowed down by Parkinson's disease. He was concerned about whether he could ever fully recover from an open-heart procedure.

At Dr. Wakefield's suggestion, Don explored minimally invasive surgery with Husam Balkhy, MD, Froedtert Health Medical Group cardiothoracic surgeon. Dr. Balkhy is a pioneer in minimally invasive heart surgery and one of the most experienced heart surgeons in the nation using the da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System.

While both mitral valve repair and coronary bypass can be performed using the da Vinci system, combining the two procedures in one robotic operation is extremely rare. Still, Dr. Balkhy felt that in Don's case, because of his Parkinson's disease, avoiding open-chest surgery was important.

"A combined valve repair and bypass using the da Vinci robot had been performed only two or three times previously in the U.S.," Dr. Balkhy said. "But I felt Don was an excellent candidate."

An Amazing Recovery

During the operation, Dr. Balkhy first completed the coronary bypass and then tackled the complex mitral valve repair. Afterward, Don recovered rapidly. Tests showed that his heart was strong, and after just a few days he was nearly ready to go home. Then Don had a setback as his Parkinson's symptoms suddenly worsened. His heart was strong but would need the caring and expertise of Community Memorial's advanced inpatient rehabilitation program.

Not to be defeated, Don dove into a challenging rehabilitation program that included physical, occupational and speech therapy. Two weeks after arriving at the rehabilitation center, Don was ready to go home.

"I was back to work four days after getting out of the hospital," Don said. "That happened because of the robotic surgery as well as the rehabilitation team."

Dr. Balkhy agreed.

"With an open surgery, Don's recovery would have been significantly longer," he said. "The fact that he only had small holes in his chest helped him significantly to get back in action so quickly."

With life almost back to normal, Marlene cannot say enough about the care Don received at Community Memorial.

"The doctors were great, the therapists were great, the nursing care was great," Marlene said. "They took care of Don, and they took care of me as well. Dr. Balkhy is fantastic. He was so supportive and encouraging all the time, and every day he was there to visit Don. He is a very gifted and extremely dedicated surgeon, and you cannot believe what he is doing with robotics."

"We feel extremely blessed that our paths crossed," she said. "Community Memorial has continually strengthened its heart unit. Because of that, Don was able to have exceptional care and robotic surgery right in our own backyard."

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