Naruhito Watanabe, MD, a surgeon with Sutter Health in Sacramento, California, is believed to the be first in the U.S. to employ a mini-thoracotomy to address a child’s persistent atrial septal defect. The approach has been previously used with some regularity in Europe and Brazil.
Mini-thoracotomy involves going into the chest through a small incision under the armpit that allows for an instrument to be inserted between the patient’s ribs. Once the surgeon is inside, the fundamental approach is similar to open heart surgery, applying a patch over the hole in the patient’s heart.
Of course, taking the minimally invasive approach makes a world of difference.
“Here, we don’t have to split the bone, we just kind of sneak in,” Watanabe told the Sacramento Bee.
Watanabe says using the mini-thoracotomy instead of the open heart approach cuts the patient’s recovery time from six weeks to two.
Watanabe performed the surgery on a three-year-old girl earlier this year, his second patient to undergo the procedure. Several months later, doctors say she is fully recovered.
As with any innovative procedure, no matter how promising, there is always some additional uncertainty built in to the process.
“We didn’t know the morning of the surgery how they were going to be able to do it,” the patient’s father, Matt Avila, told the Bee. “It was still 50/50 whether they were going to be able to go through her chest or in through the side, so that was a real last-minute decision.”
The mini-thoracotomy is currently only used for a limited number of heart issues, but Watanabe is hoping to expand its applicability in the future.