BMC Surgeon Performs World’s First Stand-Alone Erratic Heartbeat Procedure Using New Technology

in Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine
February 22nd, 2005

Contact: Kristen Perfetuo, 617-638-8491 | kristen.perfetuo@bmc.org

(Boston) – Boston Medical Center (BMC) recently made history when Richard Shemin, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at BMC, performed the world’s first and second stand-alone surgical cardiac ablation procedures using High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) – a unique energy source that allows surgeons to treat atrial fibrillation from outside a patient’s beating heart without having to use a heart-lung bypass machine. Both patients, a 46-year-old male and a 76-year-old male are recovering normally.

BMC is the only hospital in New England, and one of three sites in the United States to currently offer the new, less invasive treatment to patients suffering from atrial fibrillation, the most common form of erratic heartbeat. Shemin is one of a few surgeons trained to use the HIFU surgical ablation technology developed and manufactured by St. Jude Medical, Inc. (NYSE: STJ).

“This is an exciting moment for patients suffering from this condition,” said Shemin, co-director of the Cardiovascular Center at BMC and chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine.

“This new procedure takes less time to complete than open-heart surgery, or catheter based treatments, optimizes patient recovery time and has an outstanding success rate.”

More than 6 million people suffer from atrial fibrillation, a condition that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart fail to beat effectively due to abnormal electrical activity. Left untreated, the arrhythmia can lead to heart failure or other neurological problems, such as stroke.

According to Shemin, open-heart surgery using the Cox-Maze procedure is currently the gold standard for treating atrial fibrillation. However, the Cox-Maze procedure is only performed by a handful of surgeons across the country due to its technically challenging and invasive nature. Because it requires that patients go on a heart-lung bypass machine, it has typically been reserved for patients requiring other cardiac surgical procedures, such as coronary artery bypass graft or valve repair.

The new HIFU technology allows surgeons to complete a “Simplified Maze” pattern by delivering high-intensity focused ultrasound energy to the outside of the heart. Once in place, the ablation is complete in less than 10 minutes.

“The ability of the technology to create a precise ‘Simplified Maze’ lesion set without opening the patient’s heart and requiring a bypass machine holds immense benefit,” said Shemin. “Additionally, it also allows surgeons to perform the procedure less invasively and more safely by sparing from possible damage to structures surrounding the heart, including the esophagus. The procedure can also be performed on patients requiring valve surgery or coronary bypass surgery.”

This new approach gives patients an alternative to medical therapy and more complicated procedures used to treat atrial fibrillation, added Shemin. “We are very excited to offer this procedure to our patients. This state-of-the-art technology is revolutionary for treating an illness that affects millions of people.”

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