Eight weeks ago, 78-year-old Norman Luttman of Onaway said he felt weak and out of gas. He was having trouble with his left eye, and went in to have a physical.
Luttman has suffered from a heart murmur for years without problems, but his doctor didn’t like what he heard.
After a trip to the cardiologist, Luttman learned he needed a valve replacement.
“I was shocked he had a problem — I didn’t think anything was wrong — I just thought he was getting a physical,” said his wife, Edith. “Then I was kind of scared.”
In October, Luttman was the first patient to undergo minimally invasive valve replacement surgery at Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey.
Unlike traditional open heart surgery, the minimally invasive procedure causes less trauma to the body, smaller scaring and a quicker recovery. Studies have shown there is also a lower chance of infection.
In women, the cosmetic result is even greater, since the incision sits beneath the breastbone.
“The benefit is, we don’t divide the breast bone, so there is no discomfort there in the healing,” said Dr. Chris Akins, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon with Michigan Heart & Vascular Specialists, a department of Northern Michigan Regional Hospital. “Patients can go back to work almost immediately and don’t have to be out of work for two months like with traditional surgery.”
Akins has been performing the procedure since 1998. Minimally invasive valve replacement has been around for a long time, but Akins noted it has become more popular and mainstream over the last five years.
“Anyone with isolated valve disease is a good candidate,” Akins said. “If you’ve been a candidate for heart surgery, you may be a candidate for minimally invasive.”
Luttman was told he was a prime candidate for the procedure because as a longtime vegetarian his vessels were clear, and as a life-long construction worker, he had good muscle tone.
He now has a two-inch scar on his chest, and inside, a beating bovine valve. He was back working on the construction of his and his wife’s home just four weeks after surgery.
“I know three people who had traditional open heart surgery and their recovery time was two months,” Luttman said. “I knew that was not the route I wanted to go if I could avoid it.”
Two months after the procedure, Luttman now exercises 45 minutes, most days a week. He will also continue checkups with his cardiologist and regular doctor.
“For me, this was the way to go, it really is,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to have to have this type of medical issue happen, most people aren’t, but I had no real pain. It was really incredible. My rotator cuff surgery was much more painful.”
Akins said those interested in the minimally invasive valve replacement surgery should talk with their doctor to learn if they are a good candidate for the procedure.