A better way to do heart surgery


Not all valve surgeries are equal. Dr. Neelan Doolabh has the procedure to prove it.

3 Questions with Dr. Neelan Doolabh

There’s now a better way to do heart valve surgery, but only a handful of surgeons in the world have the expertise for it. UT Southwestern’s Neelan Doolabh, M.D., is one of those experts and, together with his team, he’s changing heart patients’ experiences for the better.

How is the minimally invasive heart valve surgery you do different from others?

Generally, during heart surgery the physician cuts the breastbone, which has to heal afterward. You can’t put a cast on it, so patients are told not to lift or tug anything weighing more than 10 pounds for six to eight weeks so they can recover. They’re not allowed to drive. That’s true even of most minimally invasive surgeries because even though the incision is smaller, the breastbone is still cut and divided. But my approach is different. I make a small incision of two inches or less and go in between the ribs, so there are no broken bones. Because of that, there is less risk of complications and no six- to eight-week recovery period waiting for the breastbone to heal. We let our patients drive much sooner, and they usually have full mobility within 10 days or so.

Is it a difficult procedure for a surgeon to perform and for a patient to endure?

It’s technically demanding for a surgeon, which may be why less than one percent of valve procedures worldwide are done this way. Most doctors who do it may have performed 10 or 20. I’ve done more than 1,000. As for patients, this procedure is actually easier on them than traditional minimally invasive surgery. A normal procedure takes four hours, and some minimally invasive surgeries take four to six hours or longer. My procedure takes about two hours. We don’t crack the chest open, and the patient is not under anesthesia with their heart stopped for an extended time. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons looks at a wide variety of data – hospital stays and any complications, for example – in awarding its highest rating of three stars, which is given to only the top three percent of well over 1,000 programs. I’ve been fortunate to earn it for valve surgery repeatedly.

Who is a candidate for this type of surgery?

A lot of patients who have heart surgery are elderly or frail and may have several health issues, but we offer this technique to any patient. In fact, it’s often the most challenging patients who benefit the most from this procedure. They tend to put off traditional surgery because of the risks and recovery time, and, as a result, they get sicker. With our technique, patients can get in sooner and get help before their heart is damaged further. We understand that heart surgery is a major insult to your life and lifestyle. We know what you’re going through, so we’re going to take good care of you and make sure your experience is the best it can be.

Neelan Doolabh, M.D., is Director of Minimally Invasive Heart Valve Surgery in UT Southwestern’s Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. He is one of a handful of surgeons in the world who performs valve repairs, valve replacements, and other heart procedures without cutting into any bone at all. To schedule an evaluation with Dr. Doolabh, call 214-74-VALVE.