Most complex mitral valve repair surgery can be performed through a 4 inch sternotomy.
Our Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery Center offers minimally invasive heart valve surgery to selected patients. Not all patients are suitable for minimally invasive surgery. Patients who require additional cardiac procedures like coronary artery bypass surgery, elderly patients, patients with very diseased arteries, and patients with a very weakly contracting heart will not be suitable for this approach. Our paramount objective is to ensure a good valve repair, with no residual leakage, at a low operative risk. Our surgeons will only perform a repair through a small incision when they believe they can do a good quality valve repair at a low risk to the patient; if the valve disease is complicated (as assessed by the echocardiogram) then we recommend a full incision as we believe a larger scar is preferable to an imperfect repair.
Ask the surgeon if this is an option for you.
Different Approaches to Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery
Dr. David Adams and Dr. Ani Anyanwu use special instruments to perform minimally invasive heart valve surgery.
The term “minimally invasive surgery” covers a spectrum of approaches. The goal is to perform surgery through a smaller incision without compromising the safety and long-term results of conventional mitral valve repair. The advantage of a small incision is mainly cosmetic (the scars are smaller and less visible). In some patients, the pain after surgery may be reduced and recovery from surgery is faster when surgery is done through a smaller incision. Operating through small incisions is however more technically demanding and in some cases could reduce the safety of the procedure. This page describes the various incisions, and you can read more about the associated benefits and disadvantages of each.
Dr. David Adams with Mary D., five weeks after surgery, whose minimally invasive valve repair was performed with a sternotomy.
In this approach the surgeon makes a 4 inch incision over the lower aspect of the midline of the chest and divides only the lower portion of the breast bone to gain access to the valve. This limits the actual amount of opening, and thus chest wall trauma. Through this incision we can easily access the heart and all the major vessels and can perform most complex mitral valve repairs along with aortic valve replacement or coronary artery bypass grafting. This incision has the advantage that if the surgeon encounters problems, he or she can easily extend the incision and divide the remaining breast-bone and convert to the standard approach. When fully healed the lower sternotomy scar is concealed by clothing, even when the patient wears low-necked clothing. In some women the scar is well concealed by their brassiere. It is the most flexible approach to the heart, and it is the approach we use in most patients.
Mitral valve surgery can be carried out through a 2-3 inch incision, usually under the right breast, which allows the surgical team to see and work on the mitral valve directly. The patient is placed on the heart-lung machine either through the same chest incision or through the vessels in the groin via a 1 inch incision. Durable, simple and more complex mitral repairs can be performed, eliminating mitral regurgitation in a wide range of patients.
Dr. David Adams shows a thoracotomy incision from a minimally invasive heart valve repair, eight days after surgery.
In this approach the surgeon makes a 4 to 6 inch incision in the right side (instead of middle) of the chest and gains access to the heart by going through the ribs. Some women prefer this incision because the scar may be placed underneath the breast crease and is therefore largely concealed. Access to the heart may be difficult in some cases making it more difficult to achieve a perfect repair.
Low Skin Incisions
Patients who are concerned about cosmesis, but who are not suitable for minimally invasive surgery, can request a low incision. The surgeon can make the standard skin incision start an inch lower and yet perform full division of the breastbone. The scar will therefore not be visible when wearing normal clothing. Patients who cannot have a minimally invasive operation, but who are concerned about the scar, can also request the services of our plastic surgeon to cosmetically close the incision.
Robotic Surgery and Endoscopic Surgery
In these approaches the surgeon performs the operation through several mini-incisions or “port sites”, the largest being about 2 inches. Robotic mitral valve repair is performed using the assistance of a ‘robot’ and specially designed instruments to perform the operation. The surgeon sits at a console and controls the instruments which are mounted on the arms of a robot by another surgeon. Endoscopic mitral valve repair is performed using long instruments placed through the port sites. The patient is placed on the heart-lung machine via blood vessels in the groin. In both cases, the surgeon uses video cameras to see inside the chest cavity.
Although cosmetically superior, these approaches limit the complexity of repair that can be undertaken by the surgeon, and in some cases may compromise on the quality of repair. For this reason, we do not offer these two approaches at Mount Sinai as we cannot guarantee the same high standards of mitral valve repair as we can with other approaches.