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Number of cases

NMMC sees more than 1,000 heart surgeries annually

Tupelo — In 2003, North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC), the nation’s largest rural hospital, marked a milestone by performing more than 1,000 heart bypass and valve surgeries that year alone.

“The number of cases we’ve done is remarkable, especially considering that the hospital’s first 1,000 heart surgeries spanned a period of five years from 1981 to 1986,” said George Hand, director of NMMC’s Heart Institute.

Based in Tupelo, NMMC’s heart program was established in 1980, when the hospital received a certificate of need to perform heart catheterization and open-heart procedures.

Max Hutchinson, M.D., a general surgeon at NMMC, performed the hospital’s first heart bypass surgery in January 1981. The following month, he completed the hospital’s first heart valve replacement surgery.

“We believed our heart program was off to a remarkable start in 1981 when we performed 148 open heart surgeries,” said Hutchinson.

Because the demand increased so rapidly, NMMC recruited a second cardiothoracic surgeon, Pat Ewing, M.D., in 1983. By March 1986, the duo had performed 1,000 open-heart surgeries.

“Now we’re up to 1,000 heart bypass and valve surgeries a year,” said Hutchinson. “We’re serving more patients than I ever expected 20 years ago.”

Today, NMMC’s cardiothoracic surgery team also includes medical doctors Kenn Beeman, Robert Derveloy, Vishal Sachdev and David Talton, and the hospital is often listed among the nation’s top hospitals for cardiovascular care, and is one of only two Mississippi hospitals that have made Solucient’s prestigious “Top 100 Hospitals: Cardiovascular Benchmarks for Success.”

“It’s been rewarding to watch the heart specialty program grow,” said Gerald Wages, COO and executive vice president for NMMC. “We want to continue to do our part to help in the fight against heart disease, which is the number one killer in Mississippi.”

Last year, heart disease and stroke killed more than 90,000 people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Cardiovascular diseases claimed more lives than the next six leading causes of death combined, according to the American Heart Association.

In 1999, NMMC became one of only two hospitals statewide to offer transmyocardial revascularization, a procedure that involves drilling tiny holes into the heart with a laser to relieve angina pain. The cardiothoracic team was also among the first to use homograft heart valves to replace a person’s own damaged or diseased heart valves. Homograph valves are crafted from human tissue and offer a more natural alternative to heart valve replacement surgery.

In 2000, the Heart Institute pioneered “off-pump” or “beating heart” bypass surgery, a procedure performed without placing the patient on a heart-lung machine. Benefits include shorter hospital stays, a faster recovery period and less blood loss for patients by not stopping the heart and temporarily replacing its functions with the heart-lung machine.

In 2001, NMMC introduced surgical ventricular restoration (SVR), an innovative new surgery performed to correct an enlarged, poor functioning left ventricle, a common malady in congestive heart failure patients.

In 2002, the Heart Institute team had another breakthrough, with enhancements to the Maze procedure for treating atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat in which the two upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beat effectively.

In April 2003, NMMC became one of the first hospitals nationwide to offer drug-eluting stents when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the stents to treat blocked coronary arteries. That same year, NMMC built four new operating rooms exclusively for heart surgeries to accommodate the increasing number and complexity of cases, added six beds in the surgery recovery area and replaced the 36-bed intensive care unit (ICU) with a 50-bed critical care unit (CCU).

One of only a few healthcare centers in the South with an accredited echocardiography laboratory, NMMC’s Heart Institute houses four state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization labs and labs for electrophysiology and nuclear studies. It is one of only two hospitals statewide to offer the biventricular assist device, technology that simulates the heart’s own pumping capability. Cardiothoracic surgeons surgically implant this mechanical pump-type device in patients whose heart continues to fail.

“Transplantation is one of few procedures we do not perform at the Heart Institute,” said Hand, “but our cardiothoracic team can surgically implant this biventricular assist device often referred to as a ‘bridge to transplant,’ which can sustain a patient’s weakened heart while waiting for a transplant.”

The Heart Institute also offers cardiac pulmonary rehabilitation services to help patients rebound physically and emotionally from cardiac and lung disease, and hosts an outpatient pediatric cardiology clinic each week for patients ranging in age from newborns to young adults. Pediatric cardiologists affiliated with Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis also see patients at NMMC.

“We’ve developed a good electrophysiology program over the last few years, the last of the programs to really develop,” said Wages. “We just approved a second EP lab. We’ll continue to monitor the marketplace to stay on the leading edge of cardiac treatment.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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