Neelan Doolabh, M.D.

Neelan Doolabh, M.D.

Director of Minimally Invasive Heart Valve Surgery

  • Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery
  • Minimally Invasive Cardiac & Valve Surgery
  • Surgical Treatment of Thoracic Aortic Disease

Biography

Neelan Doolabh, M.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at UT Southwestern. He serves as the Director of Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery.

Dr. Doolabh earned his medical degree at UT Southwestern, where he also completed a residency in surgery and a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery. He served in private practice in Tyler, Texas, until he joined the UT Southwestern staff in 2016.

He specializes in a minimally invasive approach to valve surgeries and other cardiac procedures that avoids any cutting of the sternum or ribs, and he is one of the few surgeons in the United States in terms of volume and experience in this procedure. His practice in Tyler was awarded a three-star rating by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons – a rating given to only 3 percent of cardiothoracic surgeons.

Dr. Doolabh is a member of the American College of Surgeons, the American Medical Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the Smith County Medical Association.

Personal Note

While Dr. Doolabh’s work is his main passion, his love of technical precision does occasionally extend beyond the operating room – to the race track. He and his son are avid followers of Formula One racing, and they make regular appearances at the Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, Texas.

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Meet Dr. Doolabh

Minimally Invasive Heart Valve Surgeon in Dallas

Cardiothoracic surgeon Neelan Doolabh, M.D., is redefining minimally invasive heart surgery for patients in the Metroplex.

For many people with heart conditions such as valve disease, surgery is often put off for as long as possible. “It can be a major insult to your body with significant risks and a long recovery,” Dr. Doolabh says.

Most heart procedures – even those that are called minimally invasive – require that the patient be under anesthesia for four to six hours and for the surgeon to cut through part or all of the patient’s breastbone. The recovery time after these surgeries is six to eight weeks to allow the bone to heal.

Dr. Doolabh, the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery for UT Southwestern’s Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, is one of an elite group of surgeons who performs valve repairs, valve replacements, and other heart procedures without cutting into any bone at all.

His approach takes two hours and requires only one small incision, which in turn revolutionizes what heart surgery means to patients: less risk of complications, a shorter hospital stay, and less postoperative recovery time.

“Our patients do very well,” Dr. Doolabh says. “They’re usually back to driving in 10 days.”

It also makes heart surgery more viable for people with complex health conditions, for whom traditional heart surgery poses much greater risks.

“We’ve seen that cardiologists are referring patients to me sooner instead of putting it off because they know their patient is going to get a simpler operation,” Dr. Doolabh says.

That means these patients are getting effective treatment before their heart becomes more damaged and their health becomes more compromised.

Experience and Results

Dr. Doolabh has performed more than 1,000 minimally invasive valve surgeries, making him not only the busiest valve surgeon in Texas but also among the few in the country in terms of experience in this minimally invasive technique.

He is recognized by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons for being in the top 3 percent of surgeons in terms of patient outcomes data, including very low rates of complications such as stroke and kidney failure, short hospital stays, and low rates of hospital readmission.

Dr. Doolabh joined the UT Southwestern team in 2016, after 13 years of private practice in Tyler, Texas. He says his main mission in Dallas is to raise awareness of this better approach to heart surgery.

“I really want people to know that if they need a procedure such as valve surgery they have choices, and they can choose this minimally invasive option,” he says. “Instead of getting your chest cracked open, you can get better results with one tiny incision and get back to your life sooner.”

Another part of Dr. Doolabh’s goal is to combine the personal touch of a private practice with the world-class care of an academic medical center.

“It’s an honor to be working with the best and the brightest in their fields,” he says, “and it’s an honor to come back to the place that trained me. UT Southwestern gave me my education, and now I get to offer UT Southwestern patients something that’s not readily available elsewhere.”

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Education & Training
  • Fellowship - UT Southwestern Cardiovascular Thoracic Surgery (2000-2003), Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery
  • Residency - UT Southwestern Medical Center (1995-2000), General Surgery
  • Medical School - UT Southwestern Medical School (1991-1995)

Clinical Focus

  • Minimally Invasive Cardiac & Valve Surgery
  • Surgical Treatment of Thoracic Aortic Disease
  • Heart Valve Repair/Replacement
  • Adult Congenital Heart Defects

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Three questions with Neelan Doolabh, M.D.

Neelan Doolabh, M.D. Answers Questions On:
Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

What makes the technique you use different from other minimally invasive techniques?

Let’s take mitral valve surgery as an example. For this procedure, I make a small incision of two inches or less. I go in between the ribs so there is no broken bone.

That’s much different than the vast majority of minimally invasive surgeries, which still involve cutting about half the length of breastbone. And that’s the great limiting factor in these surgeries – cutting the breastbone is a big issue in terms of recovery. My patients have full mobility within 10 days or so, versus six weeks of no driving and limited movement while you wait for your breastbone to heal.

Some people do this procedure with a surgical robot, in which case they don’t cut the breastbone. But using a robot requires multiple incisions, and you need one surgeon for the robot and one to be with the patient, and the patient is under anesthesia with his heart stopped for a long time. And ultimately, a robot just can’t do what a human can do in a surgical setting.

Why aren’t all heart surgeries done this way?

It’s estimated that, worldwide, less than 1 percent of valve procedures are done the way I do it. That’s because it’s really technically demanding. Not everybody is comfortable doing it. But part of my mission is to spread awareness of this technique so that more patients get access to it – and so that, someday, everybody who needs heart surgery can have it done this way.

Do you have to meet special criteria to be a candidate for this technique?

Not at all. In fact, it’s often the most challenging patients who benefit the most from it.

People who might be considered too old for other techniques are great candidates for this surgery. People who are obese or who have complex health issues have, with traditional heart surgery, much higher risks of complications, even death, and they don’t recover as well, so surgery is often put off as long as possible for these patients. But in the meantime the person is getting sicker and his odds of developing heart failure are getting higher. With our technique you can get folks treated sooner – they get better patient care, faster.

Is there anything you don’t do with this technique?

The one thing I don’t do is bypass surgery, where you have a blocked artery that needs to be bypassed. So if you come to me for a valve surgery and it turns out that you also need a bypass, we do the minimally invasive valve repair and then an interventional cardiologist puts a stent in the blocked artery. So then you get the best of both worlds: treatment for your valve and for your arteries, with no chest cracking.

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