Open Heart Surgery Program

Western Maryland Health System offers the only open heart surgery program in Maryland west of Baltimore. In the past, only large academic medical centers had the capacity to complete such a complex surgery. WMHS Heart Institute can provide this service thanks to the team of highly skilled and experienced surgeons, as well as the medical support staff. Our surgeons perform two different procedures, coronary artery bypass surgery, and heart valve surgery.

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Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

This surgery is appropriate for individuals with coronary heart disease (CHD). With CHD, a waxy substance called plaque accumulates on the insides of coronary arteries. This prevents the arteries from delivering oxygen to the blood and heart. If left untreated, the plaque can harden or rupture. When plaque hardens, arteries narrow and the heart receives less oxygen-rich blood. This leads to discomfort in the chest, a condition commonly called angina.

If the plaque in the artery walls ruptures, it can cause a life-threatening blood clot on its surface. This can partially or completely block the flow of blood to coronary arteries. Ruptured plaque in the heart’s arteries is the leading cause of heart attacks. Before undergoing open heart surgery, your cardiologist will complete a procedure called cardiac catheterization. This enables the cardiologist to determine where the blockage is located as well as how many bypasses you require.

During coronary artery bypass surgery, the cardiologist connects a healthy vein or artery to the blocked one. The healthy vein or artery goes around the blocked portion to create a new path for the blood containing oxygen to flow into the muscles of the heart. WMHS cardiac surgeon, Dr. Mark Nelson, can complete several coronary artery bypasses at the same time. He also works with assistant surgeons, a team of cardiac nurses, an anesthesiologist, and a professional who operates the heart-lung machine called a perfusionist.

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After Surgery

After surgery, you are immediately transported to the state-of-the-art cardiovascular unit (CVU). A nurse will let your family know when you arrive in the CVU as well as when they’re able to visit you. Each CVU patient receives high-quality, individualized care.

Coronary artery bypass surgery is not a cure for heart disease, but rather a treatment for it. After discharge, you must commit to a healthy diet, moderate exercise, reducing stress, and quitting smoking. You may also consider enrolling in the WMHS cardiac rehabilitation program for extra support.

Heart Valve Surgery (Balloon Valvuloplasty)

Damage to the heart valves for any reason causes an abnormal flow in blood that forces the heart to work much harder than it would have to otherwise. This can eventually lead to heart failure. The WMHS cardiology team can either repair or replace a damaged heart valve, depending on your situation.

During heart valve repair surgery, the surgeon threads a small catheter containing an expandable balloon into the heart and places it next to the affected valve. The surgeon then expands the balloon to stretch the valve open and separate its leaflets. This allows for improved blood flow at the completion of the surgical procedure.

Heart valve replacement is a better option when damage to the heart valves is extensive. Typically, this involves open heart surgery where the surgeon removes the diseased valves from inside of your chest and sews a new artificial heart valve in its place. Occasionally, cardiology surgeons can complete this procedure without having to open up the chest. In this minimally invasive surgery, the cardiologist makes a small incision near the breastbone and under the muscle of the right side of the chest.

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Discuss the Risks and Benefits of These Procedures with Your Cardiologist

As with all surgeries, coronary artery bypass, heart valve repair, and heart valve replacement all carry risks and benefits. Our cardiology team will explain the procedure in detail and answer any questions before scheduling your specific surgery.