When John Jessup woke up after mini mitral heart valve surgery at The Christ Hospital last summer, he was ready for the worst. "I was expecting to be in excruciating pain," Jessup recalls. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised. "There was no pain whatsoever."
Jessup, age 71, runs a home-based consulting business and is an active volunteer for the American Red Cross and Hospice at Dayton. He had visited several doctors in Dayton because he was having shortness of breath. Early results suggested a lung problem, but the true cause was soon identified as a leaky mitral heart valve. "I did the echocardiogram test and my cardiologist was on the phone talking to Dr. Mario Castillo-Sang at Christ Hospital," Jessup says. "He says: we've got to get this fixed right away."
"The mitral valve acts as a check valve that prevents blood from backing up into the lungs," explains Dr. Mario Castillo-Sang, a staff cardiothoracic surgeon at The Christ Hospital. "If the mitral valve leaks, blood will back up into the lung."
Until the late 1990s, repairing or replacing the mitral valve required full open heart surgery by spreading the breast bone (sternotomy), and many hospitals are still limited to that procedure. Jessup was lucky because his cardiologist was familiar with the Christ Hospital's growing program to treat mitral valve disease.
"It's a very different overall procedure," Dr. Castillo-Sang says. "We make a small incision on the right side of the chest and a very small incision in the groin for the heart lung machine." Using long instruments and a five-millimeter fiber optic camera, the entire operation can be performed via this two-and-a-half inch incision, without the need to break a rib.
Though this proven procedure has been around since 1998, The Christ Hospital is one of the few places it using goretex loops to repair the valve with a less invasive approach. "Frankly, in the US, not many people do it," Castillo-Sang says. "There's only about seven of us who do it frequently."
Luckily Jessup was able to have the procedure done within a few days, and was soon on the road to recovery. "When I left the hospital Wednesday morning I was doing business at home Wednesday night," Jessup recalls. His life was more or less back to normal about a month later.
Jessup's rapid recovery seemed all the more remarkable because his wife had a similar heart valve problem about a year earlier. "We didn't know about my procedure," Jessup says. "They had to crack her chest and go through the normal open heart surgery." Jessup estimates that his wife needed two to three times as much recovery time before she was able to return to a normal life. "She was in very bad pain."
Jessup enthusiastically recommends mini mitral surgery to anyone who qualifies for the procedure. Just before he was diagnosed, he had been close to closing a major business deal for one of his clients. "The company was very gracious and very accommodating," he says. "They told me 'take whatever time you need, we'll put the project on hold.' The project wasn't on hold for a week. It was on hold from Friday morning until Wednesday afternoon."