What it was like to watch open-heart surgery (Part 4)

I guess I watch too many medical shows on TV. But I was expecting something a little more dramatic.

When cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D. finished repairing two damaged valves during an open heart surgery I watched at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center last week it was time to give the repaired heart a test drive. The intricate network of cannulae (tubes) that had been set up to detour the patient’s blood away from the heart during surgery were reconfigured and perfusionist Barry Steinbock gradually sent warm, freshly oxygenated blood back into the heart, which had been in a state of suspended animation throughout the delicate repairs. (To give you an idea just how precise his movements must be, deGuzman at one point told me, “One stitch too deep and she’s on a pacemaker.”)

I was expecting paddles, someone calling, “Clear!” and an electrical shock to restart the heart.

Instead, as I was waiting around for that dramatic moment, the 60-year-old woman’s warming heart quietly welcomed the resurgent lifeblood. Almost imperceptibly, anticlimactically, it slowly started beating.

“Hey!” I said to Steinbock in disbelief. “Her heart is beating!”

Though his mouth was hidden by a surgical mask, I could tell from his eyes that he was smiling indulgently. “That’s usually what happens,” he said. “It usually starts beating again on its own.”

Proving once again that the quiet miracles are the most profound.

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