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Kenny Urban with doctors

Gundersen was his last, best hope

Kenny Urban, from Farmington, Ill., and his wife Carol, thought they were out of options when a chance conversation with a co-worker prompted Carol to make a life-changing call to Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

Kenny, a farmer and school bus driver, was in constant pain and could barely walk from an infection that started in his back, then settled in and around his knee replacements. Despite repeated attempts to treat the infection with strong antibiotics, the infection persisted. With pain and immobility caused by the infection, working the farm, driving bus, doing everyday things became nearly impossible for Kenny.

Kenny's orthopedic surgeon recommended removing the infected knee replacements, but there was another problem. Although an active, strong man before the infection sidelined him, 67-year-old Kenny has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes making surgery risky.

Pre-surgery tests also showed Kenny had a dangerous blockage in the main artery in his heart. Twice, stents (mesh tubes) were put in the artery to open the blockage. When the stents didn't solve the problem, heart bypass surgery seemed Kenny's best option.

With bypass surgery, a healthy blood vessel is used to bypass the section of blocked or partially blocked artery to reroute blood flow. At many hospitals, heart bypass requires open-heart surgery. Three different hospitals in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota felt Kenny was not a good candidate for open-heart surgery. Without the bypass surgery, the surgery to replace his infected knees would not be possible either.

That's when a chance conversation changed everything. "My co-worker used to live in La Crosse. She mentioned her father had minimally invasive bypass surgery at Gundersen. That's when I called. I had no referral, no name, but I somehow got connected with Dr. Rabindra," Carol remembers.

Since 2010, Gundersen heart surgeon Prem Rabindranauth, MD, FACS, has used minimally invasive cardiac surgery (MICS) to perform heart bypass (coronary artery bypass grafting or CABG). He was among the first to routinely do MICS-CABG and he's still among the few who can do MICS-CABG on multiple vessels.

Traditional open-heart bypass surgery requires a long incision through the breastbone to open the chest and access the heart. With MICS-CABG, Dr. Rabindra uses a much smaller incision between the ribs. Because it isn't necessary to "crack open" the chest, there is less pain and blood loss, lower risk for infection, faster recovery and fewer post-op restriction related to driving and returning to work. That's why MICS-CABG is often a better option—sometimes the only option—for patients like Kenny.

"After Dr. Rabindra reviewed Kenny's medical files, previous test results and images, we got the call that he could do Kenny's heart bypass," Carol explains. "We arrived in La Crosse the day before Kenny's surgery. The next day they picked us up with a golf cart and delivered Kenny to surgery. During surgery, they kept me in the loop. Everyone at Gundersen was wonderful. It was a great experience that couldn't have been easier. I consider it an act of God that somehow we got connected to the right people."

Kenny was able to receive his follow-up heart care back home in Illinois. A few months later, Kenny's right knee was replaced, eliminating the chronic infection in that joint. He hopes to have the second knee done soon.

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