Beyond Human Limits: Robotic Arms and Eyes Extend Capabilities of Heart Surgeons

Organization: Service: Story Topics:
Heart Disease
Ron Walker

A community seminar about the benefits of robot-assisted surgery at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center piqued Ron Walker’s interest. When the 70-year-old Fountain Valley resident attended the session, he learned that the minimally invasive procedure meant generally shorter recovery times, less pain and smaller incisions.

“I was just interested in the concept of robotic surgery. I never thought I would be the one who needed it,” says Ron.

Ron first noticed something was wrong after raking leaves in his yard. Although he played golf regularly, he felt winded with certain normal, daily activities. His wife, Marilyn, was concerned and suggested he see his primary care physician, Elaine Grodin, MD, with Edinger Medical Group. Dr. Grodin immediately referred him to the cardiac specialists at Orange Coast Memorial.

After several tests, an angiogram revealed that Ron had more than 90 percent blockage in one artery and 60 percent in another. Five days later, Daniel Bethencourt, MD, medical director of cardiac surgery at the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial, used state-of-the-art robotic surgery to bypass a blocked artery in Ron’s heart.

Past Vs. Present

Instead of performing a sternotomy, a procedure in which surgeons cut through the breastbone and ribs to access the chest cavity and heart, Dr. Bethencourt made only a few, tiny incisions between Ron’s ribs. Using the da Vinci® Surgical System’s miniaturized, hand-like instruments, Dr. Bethencourt accessed the artery while looking at three-dimensional magnified images sent from a camera inside Ron’s body.

“In the past, we would have to make a large incision and split Ron’s breastbone to do this surgery. That’s not the case anymore. This technology provides the best possible way to treat that artery with greater precision and control,” says Dr. Bethencourt. Having performed nearly 600 robot-assisted cardiac surgeries, he is one of only seven cardiothoracic surgeons in California recognized for his expertise by the makers of the da Vinci Surgical System.

Two In One

After Dr. Bethencourt completed the bypass, Steven Schiff, MD, medical director of invasive cardiology at the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial, inserted a stent into another blocked artery in Ron’s heart. The physicians worked out of the Annie Capaldi Heart Revitalization Suite, one of the region’s first hybrid interventional operating rooms.

“We can combine both procedures into one session. Patients no longer need to have the bypass and the stent on separate occasions,” says Dr. Schiff. “With smaller incisions and quicker recovery times, there’s a much smaller physical cost to the patient.”

Back On Course

The MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial offers comprehensive diagnostic screening and treatment through technologically advanced cardiovascular equipment. Ron and Marilyn knew they were in the best hands. “We couldn’t have asked for a better hospital or better doctors,” says Marilyn. “Ron received excellent care. He has a brand new lease on life, and we didn’t even know he needed one.”

After recovering from surgery, Ron began the cardiac rehabilitation program at Orange Coast Memorial. He’s now back to playing golf three days a week and spending quality time with his family.

The Walkers will always remember the day of the surgery. “I had my heart fixed on Valentine’s Day. Marilyn and I will forever celebrate on February 14th,” says Ron.