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Charlotte Hospital Pioneers New Kind Of Heart Surgery

A hospital patient in Charlotte is going home Tuesday after doctors successfully treated her with a new kind of heart surgery. Doctors at Carolinas HealthCare System's Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute became the first in the world to try it are among the first to try it.

The surgery could be a game-changer for patients with a weakened aorta, which is the main tube coming off your heart.

That tube can be weak at birth, or it can become weak because of things like heart disease and high blood pressure.

The old way to treat this problem involved cutting open your entire chest. Dr. Frank Arko says you can think about it like replacing a tube attached to your car's engine.

"To do it, you actually have to take the entire engine out or work in a tiny little space to get it out there," Arko says. "And you know when a mechanic takes everything apart, even when he puts everything back together, it doesn't really run the same way."

In fact, some older patients never fully recover from that kind of surgery.

Carolinas HealthCare System and the Cleveland Clinic are part of a pilot program testing out a new fix.

Dr. Arko here in Charlotte was the first surgeon to do it performed the first surgery in Charlotte. He says instead of cutting open your chest, doctors make tiny incisions near your elbow and groin. They then use a sort of wire to guide a reinforced tube called a stent through your arteries to the aorta.  

"I then just track a device over that wire - remotely from the groin or the arm - then under X-ray, I can then slowly release that stent," he says. "And that stent basically is a new tube within the old tube."

It protects the tube, or aorta, from bursting. Problem solved, without the open-heart surgery or exhaustive recovery.

The first patient to get it was an 81-year-old woman. (She's the patient who went home Tuesday.) Dr. Jeko Madjarov was also part of the team that treated her. He says the surgery was last week, "and this lady is going to drive her car when she comes to see us in the office in two weeks, basically."

"She's already back to normal," he says.

A second patient will get the surgery Wednesday.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected. The original story said this alternative to open-heart surgery had never been used before. That's not the case.