For Harry Bohling, 2022 was a year to never forget. It began with a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and ended as one of the first patients to benefit from a new advancement in heart surgery at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
“For Christmas, I got a new heart,” the Sheridan, Wyoming, man said with a smile.
It wasn’t a new heart, but a repaired heart—fixed through a minimally invasive heart surgery using robot-assisted technology.
When Bohling underwent the surgery to repair a leaky heart valve on Dec. 23, he became one of the first patients at St. V’s to have the operation.
“They put in a special ring in my mitral valve to repair it,” he says. “It was a five-hour surgery.”
The robotic–assisted heart surgery has been around for about a decade, but patients in the Billings area would most often have to drive to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota or to Los Angeles to get it.
The traditional way of having the surgery meant having the sternum cut open.
Dr. Simon Maltais, a cardiac surgeon at St. Vincent, had performed the surgery many times at the Mayo Clinic before coming to Billings. He says there are a lot of advantages to it.
“Recovery is much better. The tool itself increases the chance of successful repair because the valve is much better visualized, but more than that, I think the less invasive, totally endoscopic approach to the valve repair makes the patients quickly recuperate from operation, so faster return to work. About half the patients are back to work within a month– twice as fast as patients with an open sternotomy,” Maltais says.
In the robotic procedure, several small incisions are made to insert robotic arms, cameras, and instruments without having to completely open up the chest. They go through the side and behind the heart.
“From a surgeon’s perspective, once you get to the valve blown up on the screen 100 times then the team can see that it’s really something special,” Maltais says.
Smaller incisions also mean less chance of infection, and patients don’t spend as much time on a ventilator or recovering from the procedure.
“When I walked around the ward I would see all these guys with the big incision right down the middle and they weren’t hopping out of bed and getting around very easy or very quickly. I’d give them the thumbs up like hang in there, but I was able to get out of bed and move pretty quickly after the operation,” says Bohling.
Less than two months after getting his heart repaired using robotic surgery, he appears well on the road to recovery.
“I’m gaining new energy every day. I’m going to cardio rehab on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was quite an experience, but we got such good care and the results have been so fantastic, I just can’t get over it,” says Bohling.