BRISTOL – For patients who undergo traditional coronary artery bypass surgery, the procedure is a heart-stopping experience – literally. During bypass surgery, a patient’s heart is stopped to allow surgeons to operate on a still surface.
At Bristol Regional Medical Center, however, a growing number of heart-surgery patients are benefiting from a cardiac procedure that keeps the heart beating strong during surgery and afterward.
It’s called off-pump bypass surgery, or beating-heart surgery, and surgeons at Bristol Regional are regional leaders in the surgical method.
“More than 95 percent of our coronary bypass surgeries at Bristol Regional are performed off-pump,” said Dr. Bill Messerschmidt, a cardiothoracic surgeon with University Physicians Cardiothoracic Surgery. “There’s no question in my mind it’s the way heart surgery should be done.”
During traditional bypass surgery, a heart-lung bypass machine maintains life while a patient’s heart is stopped. With off-pump bypass surgery, a heart-lung machine is not necessary because the patient’s heart is never stilled.
Instead, the surgeon stabilizes only the affected area of the heart during surgery, allowing the rest of the heart to keep pumping and circulating blood to the body.
That’s important, Dr. Messerschmidt said, because studies have shown an increased risk of cognitive changes – such as short-term memory loss and difficulty thinking clearly – in patients who are connected to a heart-lung bypass machine.
In addition, research has shown patients who undergo off-pump bypass surgery lose less blood, have less risk of stroke and typically have shorter hospital stays. According to the American Heart Association, about 30 percent of the 500,000 coronary artery bypass surgeries performed in the United States each year are off-pump procedures, and the number is growing.
“We’re doing more of these surgeries than any other hospital for hundreds of miles,” Dr. Messerschmidt said. “The long-term success rate is just as good as that of traditional bypass surgery.”
It’s important to note, he said, that not all heart patients are candidates for the off-pump procedure. And a surgeon performing an off-pump bypass may still have to place a patient “on-pump” if complications occur once the surgery is under way.
But off-pump surgery is an attractive option for many patients, Dr. Messerschmidt said.
“Anything we can do as surgeons to make the outcome better for our patients is an improvement,” he said. “In my opinion, off-pump bypass is the best thing we can do for our patients.”