Advance in Open Heart Surgery Marks Milestone

This week marks an important milestone in the advancement of open heart surgery.

55-years ago this week, a surgeon used a machine to stop a beating heart but keep the patient alive. His nurse became the first "perfusionist" - a member of the modern heart surgical team that plays a big role in a patient's survival.

Jack Morrow is a modern-day perfusionist at Stormont-Vail HealthCare in Topeka. He says perfusionists are usually behind the scenes, but they're an important part of the team because their work keeps the patient alive.

Morrow says the perfusionist's main job is run the heart / lung machine. If a surgeon stops the heart during surgery, the machine will keep blood circulating through the body, "perfusing" the organs with the oxygen they need to stay viable. It's more than just flipping a switch. Morrow says perfusionists are constantly scanning, watching the lines through which the blood is flowing, monitoring blood pressure and checking gas levels in the blood, making any adjustments that might be needed.

Having a way to keep blood flowing with the heart stopped is essential in today's fine-tuned procedures. A beating heart would pump blood so a surgeon couldn't see what he or she was working on. Plus, a beating heart, is a moving heart, the movements interfering with fine movements.

Morrow says the heart lung machine has seen advances, just as surgical techniques have and they work hand in hand. He says millions of adults and children who've required the use of the heart lung machine owe their lives to perfusion and to the entire surgical team.

Perfusionists also help in preserving the blood supply by enabling much of a patient's own blood to go back into the body, rather than needing to replace it all with donor blood.

May 4th through 10th is National Perfusionists Week.

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