Recovery so quick, he scarcely missed a beat

On Jan. 4, 2012, 56-year-old Tom Kneifl had triple heart bypass surgery. Just 47 hours later, he walked out of the hospital, and on Jan. 24—just three weeks after surgery on his heart—Tom was back to his physically demanding job as a cabinetmaker.

How is it that possible after heart bypass surgery that traditionally required six to eight weeks of recovery? It’s because Tom had an innovative surgery, known as minimally invasive coronary artery bypass grafting (MICS CABG) at Gundersen Health System.. Gundersen is one of only a few places in the country using this minimally-invasive approach.

With three dangerously narrowed coronary arteries, Tom was lucky he didn’t have a heart attack. That’s because Tom and his wife, Sue, heeded the warning signs.

“It was over the Christmas holidays. I was having pain in my chest which I thought, at first, was from too much holiday food and drink. My wife, who works in healthcare, knew I needed to go to the hospital,” Tom recalls.

Tom considers himself to be in good shape and he sees his doctor every year. Although he had slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, he had improved both through diet and exercise. But Tom had a strike against him—a strong family history of heart disease. His mother and brother both passed away from heart disease in their early to mid-50s.

At the hospital, Tom was told he needed heart surgery. Like most people, he was familiar with traditional open heart surgery in which the surgeon uses a long incision to opens up the chest. So Tom was surprised to learn about the minimally invasive procedure from Gundersen heart surgeon Prem Rabindra, MD. This approach requires only a small three-inch incision between the ribs and two smaller one-inch incisions to accommodate the surgeon’s instruments. The result is less pain and blood loss, lower risk of infection, a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, little scarring and restriction lifted much sooner. Tom’s quick recovery and returned to work is evidence of that.

“I hate sitting around the house so I was glad to go back to work so quickly,” says Tom. “My boss couldn’t believe it. Work was very busy, so he was happy to have me back.”

“We are seeing this more frequently,” Dr. Rabindra adds. “Most of our patients who work can usually go back within a month.”

Dr. Rabindra is the first surgeon in this area to perform minimally invasive heart bypass and has successfully performed the procedure on more than 100 patients, including those, like Tom, who need bypass on three or four vessels. Few surgeons in the country do this.

“Nearly one third of the cases we do are triple bypasses and about 10 percent are quadruple. Sometimes with a triple or quadruple bypass, we may use the heart-lung machine to support the patient in a pump-assisted beating heart approach. This gives us more leeway to manipulate the heart to get to all areas that need to be bypassed,” reports Dr. Rabinda. “But with Tom, we had no specific challenges.”

If you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors including smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, talk with your doctor or take our online health risk assessment at gundersenhealth.org/knowyourrisk.

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