At Gundersen, heart surgery has come a long way—and so do our patients
In the summer of 2016, Lance Gibson, an American living in Colombia, South America, learned he needed triple bypass heart surgery. His doctor in Colombia explained that blockages in the vessels that carry blood to and from his heart could lead to a heart attack or even death.
Luckily for Lance, they also told him about Prem Rabindra, MD, FACS, a heart surgeon at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, who is a leader in the use of minimally invasive coronary surgery (MICS) for heart bypass surgery.
Better alternative to open heart surgery
Bypass surgery is traditionally performed using open-heart surgery. This means a long vertical incision and "cracking open" the chest to reach the heart. "I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of open-heart surgery," recalls Lance. "But my doctor in Colombia also told me about the MICS procedure. He was familiar with Dr. Rabindra's work and suggested I contact him."
Dr. Rabindra began performing MICS at Gundersen in 2009 and has performed several hundred MICS procedures. He was among the first in this country to use MICS for bypass surgery and is still among an elite group of heart surgeons to perform the procedure on multiple vessels.
Because of his advanced skills and excellent outcomes with MICS, Dr. Rabindra has received many invitations to speak about and teach MICS at sites around the world—including Colombia. That's how a man in Colombia came to travel to La Crosse, Wis., for his bypass surgery.
Help for travelers
Thanks to technology, Dr. Rabindra was able to review all the tests done in Colombia and evaluate Lance's condition to ensure he was a good candidate for MICS. So, everything could be done in a single trip.
Since Lance traveled to Gundersen alone and from outside the Tri-state service area, Jane Young, patient relations specialists at Gundersen stepped in to help. She picked up Lance at the airport and took him to his hotel. "It was nice to have someone to welcome me," says Lance. "She took me by the hand when I arrived, delivered me to all my appointments before and after surgery, and took me to the airport when it was time to go home. It made my experience with Gundersen great."
"I want patients to know they are welcome. Patients have enough on their plate without worrying about getting around a strange town, getting to and from appointments, and worrying about the small stuff," says Jane. "I want to take the worry out of the experience—I believe it enhances healing." Lance was not the exception. Jane and her colleagues can help coordinate care for anyone traveling from out of state for their care at Gundersen.
While Lance traveled the greatest distance—about 3,000 miles—for MICS at Gundersen, he isn't the only patient to make the trip. People have come from Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia and Alaska. And for good reason—MICS is performed through a two- to three-inch incision between the ribs, so compared to open-heart surgery, there's:
- Less pain and blood loss, lower risk of infection and minimal scarring
- Shorter hospital stay—one and a half fewer days on average
- Faster, easier recovery in two to six weeks vs. eight to 12 weeks for open-heart surgery
- Fewer restrictions related to driving, bending, lifting and returning to work and restrictions are lifted sooner—usually in two to four weeks
"I met with Dr. Rabindra before surgery and he checked on me after surgery. I was impressed with him and everyone on his staff," says Lance.
Lance was in the hospital for just a few days and was able to travel home to Colombia about two weeks after surgery. Dr. Rabindra and his staff seamlessly transferred Lance's medical records and care back to his local doctor.
Grateful for the care he received, Lance says, "The people at Gundersen made everything so easy. It's nothing like I ever experienced before."