In 25 years since Cape's first open heart surgery, doctors have performed thousands of such operations

Friday, October 2, 2009
Doctors involved in the first open-heart surgery at Southeast Missouri Hospital answer questions at a news conference Oct. 3, 1984. From left are Dr. Huey Tewis, anesthesiologist; cardiovascular surgeons Dr. Darryl Ramsey and Dr. Robert Ruess, with hospital administrator O.D. Niswonger. (Fred Lynch)

Cape Girardeau's first open heart surgery was routine for one physician in the operating room.

"At the time it seemed like any other heart operation," said Dr. Darryl Ramsey, who assisted Dr. Robert W. Ruess during the double-bypass procedure 25 years ago. "I had been doing heart surgery for a little over four years at the time, so it pretty well went like another day. It was fairly routine, though for some of the other people there it was more of a milestone."

On Oct. 1, 1984, Cathy Haven, a 33-year-old mother from Portageville, Mo., underwent the operation. Two days later she was in good condition, having been transferred out of the intensive care unit a day after the surgery, the Southeast Missourian reported at the time.

It was the first of three open heart surgeries performed on consecutive days.

Since that first three-hour operation, more than 6,800 open heart surgeries have taken place at Southeast Missouri Hospital. Saint Francis Medical Center has performed more than 4,500 open heart surgeries in the past 18 years, including 22 using robotic assistance.

Through the years, the technology and procedures have changed.

In off-pump bypass surgery, for example, the heart-lung machine that had been used to temporarily stop the beating of a heart has been replaced by equipment that stabilizes a certain part of the heart during surgery. The rest of the heart continues pumping blood through the body.

Ramsey said that method provides better results and allows fewer complications after surgery.

Photo courtesy Saint Francis Medical Center
With robotic surgery there is no need to open the chest to get access to the heart; instead, small incisions are placed between the ribs and surgical
instruments are inserted into these "ports," giving the surgeon direct
access to the heart.

"People with certain health problems such as strokes and vascular disease have benefited from this method," Ramsey said. "It's made surgery less stressful and more safe."

Another advancement in heart surgeries is the use of a tube called a stent in angioplasties, which expand arteries blocked by plaque buildup.

Dr. Edward Bender, a cardiovascular surgeon at Saint Francis Medical Center, said that allows the treatment of heart disease with a small incision rather than opening the chest.

"Instead of spending a week to 10 days in the hospital and being off work for several months patients are able to go home in a day or two and resume normal activities soon after," Bender said.

More recently, hospitals throughout the country, such as Saint Francis Medical Center, have begun performing robot-assisted heart surgery. The da Vinci S HD Surgical System, which uses robotic arms to perform certain endoscopic surgeries, bringing 3-D imaging and precision in the operating room. This technology decreases blood loss, transfusions and the risk of blood infection.

While Southeast Missouri Hospital has yet to use robot-assisted technology for open heart surgery, it is using the method for other procedures. However, Dr. William R.M. Ogle, a cardiovascular surgeon at Southeast Missouri Hospital, said in the hospital's spring edition of Consult magazine that it could happen one day.

Ramsey and Bender said the hospitals will continue to adapt as technology changes and the region grows.

To accommodate the needs of its patients, Southeast Missouri Hospital in 2008 added a new imaging tool to treat heart rhythm disorders.

Saint Francis Medical Center will open the 180,000-square-foot Heart Hospital and Cancer Institute in 2011. The facility will provide additional cardiac catheterization labs to provide relief for heart attack victims and more linear accelerators to expand radiation treatments for cancer. Most services now are housed in the existing hospital and off-campus sites such as Doctors' Park off South Mount Auburn Road.

"This community is lucky to have two hospitals dedicated to the welfare and well-being of people in this area," Bender said. "People should be comfortable with the level of care they get here."


Pertinent addresses:

211 Saint Francis Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

1701 Lacey St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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