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 Arnar Geirsson, MD, Heart and Vascular Center

Robotic surgery was “the draw” for heart valve repair

When Debbie learned at age 61 that she needed heart valve surgery, she wanted it done easily and quickly.

“I wanted it to be like having a tooth pulled. I needed it to be that quick and easy,” said the Bridgeport-area resident and businesswoman.

She specifically wanted robotic surgery to repair her leaky mitral valve as it typically means less pain, a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery.

When she found it was an option at Yale New Haven Hospital Heart and Vascular Center, the only hospital in New England to offer robotic-assisted mitral valve repair, she made an appointment to see Arnar Geirsson, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery.

About six years ago, Debbie learned from her cardiologist Linda Casale, MD, of Northeast Medical Group, that she had mitral valve prolapse, after having numerous episodes of palpitations.

Mitral valve prolapse affects about 2 percent of the population and can result in leaky mitral valve. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, palpitation, swelling, and endocarditis. Surgical repair should be considered when there is either onset of symptoms or the degree of leak has progressed to severe, said Dr. Geirsson.

Over time Debbie’s condition become more advanced and she was advised to start thinking about valve repair or replacement.

“I was stunned,” said Debbie, who says she maintained a healthy attitude about her condition. She began checking online for treatment options and learned about robotic surgery for mitral valve prolapse, which is offered at the Heart and Vascular Center at Yale New Haven Hospital. Robotic surgery was “the draw,” she said. “In my mind I was going to bounce back.”

During her first visit with Dr. Geirsson in fall 2018 he and Maureen Legenos, RN, nurse coordinator for the cardiac surgery valve program, explained the robotic-assisted mitral valve repair procedure. Debbie was also provided with a “coach,” a patient who had the procedure.

“They actually give you a coach who has gone through exactly what you’re going to go through,” said Debbie. Shortly after speaking with her coach, Debbie booked the procedure.

The operation is performed by using the DaVinci® Xi robotic system. Varied techniques are used to repair the valve and the robotic system greatly enhances repair visualization and accuracy. The surgery, which includes a 4 cm and four 8 mm incisions in the right chest, is typically three hours long and hospital stay is three to four days. Most patients are back to normal activities and work in three to four weeks, notes Dr. Geirsson. 

Debbie had her procedure in December 2018 and was discharged after two and a half days.

“It was so amazing,” she said of her experience. “I felt like a million bucks. I had no trouble at all. No pain. No discomfort whatsoever,” noted Debbie, who was back to work in two weeks.

“This procedure offers very advanced treatment of mitral valve disease using cutting-edge techniques which the patient can recover very quickly from, allowing fast return to normal activities,” said Dr. Geirsson.

Debbie summed up her experience as “incredible.” “I was confident we caught it early enough and I was taking the right road for me.”