PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Wilma Fisher enjoyed walking with her family, but last August, when she couldn’t do it anymore, she knew something was wrong.
“That was the last time I ever went for a walk then,” said Fisher, of Clintonville, Pa.
Even simple chores were a challenge.
“Even if I was sweeping the floor in here, it would wear me out,” she said.
The connective tissue around a heart valve called the mitral valve had worn out. Her doctor told her medications were not going to fix the problem.
The mitral valve is between the two chambers on the left side of the heart, or the pumping side.
It opens to let oxygenated blood into the left ventricle to be pumped out to the body. It closes to keep blood from flowing backward toward the lungs.
In her case, the blood was flowing backward, and she needed surgery to repair the valve.
Her medical history was complicated by a prior liver transplant and a long recovery, so her doctor said she would be a good candidate for a new approach — using a robot through small incisions and going between the ribs, as opposed to open heart surgery.
“He said if we did it that way, we’d only have to have a couple little cuts here on the side,” said Fisher.
“With less tissue trauma, with these more minimally invasive and robotic approaches, recovery tends to be more prompt,” said Dr. Walter McGregor, of Allegheny General Hospital Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery.
Walking in a couple days and driving in three weeks, compared to six with traditional surgery.
But it’s not for everyone.
“Body shape and body size have something to do with it, too,” said Dr. McGregor. “In general, you don’t want to have the heart too far away from the incision on the side.”
Robotic repair has been available at AGH since May. It is covered by insurance, and doctors have been doing one to two cases a week like this.
Dr. McGregor says if the robot were smaller, perhaps more surgeons would start doing more cases this way. But already other centers in Pittsburgh offer this, too.
“More routine repairs I think can almost all be done through a minimally invasive and robotic approach,” Dr. McGregor said.
For complicated repairs, a traditional procedure may be better.
But for Fisher, going the new route was just right.
“My husband said, ‘Let’s go up to the garage,’ and just from walking from here up there, he said, ‘I can tell a big difference in you.’ And I could, too,” said Fisher. “I wasn’t near as tired.”