ROUND ROCK, Texas -- In recent years technological advancements have made many surgeries a lot easier on patients and doctors. That hasn't been the case for heart surgery, which is still being performed as an open heart procedure in most instances.
Now Scott and White Hospital in Round Rock is using the "keyhole" system to significantly reduce a patient’s recovery time after heart surgery.
One Georgetown woman said the procedure helped save her life, enabling her to move on to battling another potentially deadly illness.
Dale Shepherd got a surprise during her regular mammogram in November.
"They found breast cancer," said Shepherd. "As a part of the breast cancer treatment, they did an MRI."
That’s when doctors found a separate, golf ball-sized tumor on the left atrium of her heart, something cardiothoracic surgeons say is highly unusual.
"Normally these tumors are a grape-sized," said Subbareddy Konda, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at Scott and White. "It’s very rare to not have any symptoms and grow this big."
Shepherd was forced to postpone her chemotherapy.
"Until they could take care of the heart, they couldn’t do anything about the cancer," she said.
Traditional open heart surgery, where doctors cut the breastbone and open up the chest like a book, could require as much as 12 weeks recovery time. That meant Shepherd would have to wait three weeks to begin her chemotherapy.
Instead, cardiothoracic surgeons at Scott and White performed what’s called "keyhole" surgery. In this procedure, a two to three-inch incision on the side of the chest between the ribs allows surgeons to use long, thin instruments to perform the same intricate heart surgery.
Shepherd said she was up and out of the hospital in two days after her surgery.
"I was overwhelmed by the ability for someone to figure out how to do something that could save somebody’s life and cause so little problems," said Shepherd. "I guess I kind of figured it as a miracle."
Instead of waiting three months, Shepherd was able to begin her chemotherapy treatments in just three weeks. She still has four chemo treatments left.
Go here for more information on Scott and White's "keyhole" heart procedure.