Tanya Kaufman, Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, CO)

According to the Texan Heart Institute, each year more than 230,000 people in the U.S. have had successful bypass surgeries. It is the most common open heart surgery in the U.S.

Coronary artery bypass surgery has become a common procedure in the US. Credit: National Institutes of Health.

         In April 2013, my father, Leonid Kaufman, was one of the 230,000 people who underwent successful Coronary Artery Bypass (CAB) surgery.

         Before Kaufman had his surgery, he suffered from angina. “It is when there is sharp pain in your heart. There’re blood clots in your heart. You have sharp chest pain,” my father added. “Other than that, I experienced short breathing, but that’s pretty much it.”

         According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a squeezing pain or discomfort caused from plaque buildup leaving a narrow slit in a person’s heart for their blood to flow through is called an angina.

         When the coronary artery is completely blocked off by plaque someone can suffer a heart attack. In addition, my father had a small heart attack during the month of January,2013, due to this massive amount of plaque blockage. According to NHLBI, a heart attack can happen when the arteries in the heart become partially or completely blocked.

         Before my father’s surgery, my father was slightly overweight for a man of his size and age. His father had passed away from a heart attack.

         According to the University Of Southern California Keck School Of Medicine (USCKSM), an alternative pathway is created during coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), so that the blood can flow around the blocked pathway of plaque buildup. Coronary artery grafts are produced by taking sections out of another artery or vein from another part of the patient’s body, such as the leg or arm.

         The CABG was successfully performed using my father’s saphenous vein which is from the upper calf of his right leg, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Depending on the person, the amount of bypasses varies. My father needed four bypasses, whereas someone else may only need between one and four.

         The duration of surgery also lasts differently for each person. For Kaufman, doctors estimated that the surgery would be four to six hours, but the surgery went very smoothly and only took two hours.

         “It was very helpful. The ultimate goal of the surgery has been accomplished,” Kaufman explains.

         CAB surgery is a real, serious operation that isn’t to be taken lightly. Although, most people do make it out alive from bypass surgery, according to National Health Services Choices in England, it is found that among people who have had heart attacks around 5-10% die in surgery. Additionally, people who experience complications are typically over 70.

          Nowadays, though, the people who survive coronary bypass surgery is up to 85%, according to the NHLBI.  

         One of the reasons that the percentage has gone up is because of the new ways that surgeons have found to do CABG. One of the newer ways is called minimally invasive grafting.

         It’s when the doctors don’t open your heart in surgery. They make small incisions on one or two vessels,” explains Anna Morna, a doctor at the Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, CO.

         According to USCKSM, there is a 3–5” incision on the heart rather than the usual 10–12” incision that surgeons perform.

         Another method is that a stabilizing approach is used during the surgery while the surgeons operate on a beating heart. For my father, they used the usual 10–12” incision on his heart.

         According to USCKSM, patients will stay in the hospital from 5 to 10 days recovering from their surgery. Meanwhile, my dad—wanting to return back to normal life as soon as possible—stayed only a couple of days. After the surgery, patients need to get time off from work and take medicine every day in order to avoid having a possible heart attack.

         I take Metaprolol to regulate my blood pressure and Lipitor to help me have normal cholesterol,” says Kaufman. While my father takes these medications, other patients may have different medications prescribed to them.

         “I give [my patients] Statin. It works on your liver so it doesn’t make bad cholesterol because bad cholesterol is the main reason that people have blockage. It clears up blockage,” says Morna. Taking their medicine and exercising will result in the patient leading a long, healthy life.

         After the surgery, my father was back to normal. Nowadays, my father is back to work and enjoying activities he had trouble enjoying before he had his heart surgery like playing tennis.

         “I don’t experience any more short breathing. I experience better endurance,” he adds.

Tanya Kaufman

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