Read this article as it originally appeared on July 14, 2021 on nj.com.
If you needed open-heart surgery, you would only entrust your heart — and your life — to an expert cardiac surgeon. The good news: You don’t need to travel to a New York City or Philadelphia hospital to find one.
The Prime Healthcare regional network of hospitals — Saint Clare’s Health in Denville and Dover, St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic and Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark — offers a team of exceptional cardiac and cardiothoracic surgeons close to home when minutes matter most.
The network’s cardiac surgery team prides itself on employing leading-edge surgical techniques and decades of experience and training to help patients overcome life-threatening heart diseases and reclaim their lives.
“It’s exciting to see someone who could barely breathe walk into your office and shake your hand after undergoing surgery,” said Vinay Manohar Tak, MD, senior attending cardiac surgeon and regional director of cardiothoracic surgery for Prime Healthcare New Jersey. “Our group of specialists is dedicated to caring for patients in a high-quality and personalized manner, and I’m proud to lead the team.”
Prime Healthcare is an award-winning health system operating 46 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in 14 states, providing more than 2.6 million patient visits annually. Prime Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading health systems, with nearly 50,000 employees and physicians dedicated to providing the highest quality health care.
When Cardiac Surgery Is Needed
Nilesh Patel, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic and Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, said open-heart surgery can correct a range of heart defects, but is most commonly performed to treat severe blockage of an artery, known as coronary artery disease.
Fat, cholesterol and other substances in the blood congeal and form “plaque,” or fatty deposits along the artery walls. These deposits can harden over time and can narrow or completely block the artery, increasing the patient’s risk of a heart attack or stroke.
When arterial blockage becomes life-threatening, a cardiac surgeon will perform coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), during which a surgeon removes a blood vessel from another part of the patient’s body, then attaches the vessel to the affected artery to bypass the blockage. The procedure typically takes five to six hours and requires a five- to seven-day hospital stay.
“Most of our patients need CABG because they have significant coronary artery blockage, and they either have had a heart attack or are at risk for one,” Dr. Tak said.
The cardiac surgical teams also specialize in repairing or replacing the mitral valve. This valve is located between chambers of the heart that helps control blood flow through the heart and throughout the body. “A leaky or tight valve can lead to severe consequences if left untreated,” Dr. Tak said.
Though some younger patients undergo open-heart surgery, most patients are in their 70s and have multiple risk factors, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heavy smoking.
“They may have had a heart attack or stroke and are now facing a heart transplant and heart support. In these difficult situations, our surgeons’ judgment and experience are crucial. We often confer together to make certain the patient is given the very best medical advice,” Dr. Tak said.
The Surgical Process
When open-heart surgery is recommended, the patient undergoes an extensive physical workup, cardiac catheterization (insertion of a catheter into a chamber or vessel of the heart for diagnostic purposes) if needed, and then a final diagnosis is made, Dr. Tak explained. The surgeon then conducts a pre-surgical consultation with the patient, which includes a thorough discussion of the procedure’s benefits and risks.
“There’s an inherent risk in any major surgery, Dr. Tak said. “But it’s important to remember that candidates for open-heart surgery are coming to us with a condition that will ultimately be 100% fatal if untreated.”
During these pre-operative discussions, Dr. Tak and Dr. Patel stress to their patients that they couldn’t be in better hands.
“Our outcomes, which are continually evaluated by the state Department of Health and other regulatory bodies, are among the best in both the tri-state area and the nation,” Dr. Patel said.
Throughout the process, patients receive care from a highly specialized team with years of dedicated training, and are supported by sophisticated technology designed to closely monitor their well-being.
“Cardiac surgeons typically undergo five to six years more training than general surgeons, cardiac anesthesiologists complete a special fellowship, and perfusionists are skilled in overseeing the cardiac bypass machine and its operation,” Dr. Tak said.
Patel added that open-heart surgeries are performed in a separate operating room to avoid contamination from other types of procedures. “We have the complete support from a dedicated team of OR nurses and technicians who have all received advanced training,” Dr. Patel said.
During open-heart surgery, the heart is stopped so that it can be safely repaired, and patients are placed on a heart-lung bypass machine, which takes over the heart’s function of pumping blood so that the body can function during surgery. Once the surgery is complete and the patient’s heart is restarted, patients require special support for 24 to 72 hours and are moved to a dedicated ICU/cardiac recovery area staffed by skilled nurses and cardiac intensivists trained to meet the specific needs of post-open-heart surgery patients.
The cardiac rehabilitation that is done after surgery is critical to the patient’s ultimate success. “Patients are typically weak and have breathing issues after open-heart surgery, but I see them two weeks after discharge to assess their ability to begin cardiac rehab,” Dr. Tak said. Once patients recover adequately, he added, they’ll engage in physical therapy, breathing exercises and activities designed to gradually strengthen their heart. Most patients will heal in eight to 12 weeks.
“With our intervention and lifestyle modifications, patients have the chance to live a relatively normal lifespan,” said Dr. Tak, adding that while no doctor can promise what the future holds after open-heart surgery, “Our surgery team helps change the odds in the patient’s favor.”
A Personal Commitment to Excellence
A veteran cardiac and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Tak estimates that he performs 150 to 200 open-heart surgeries and an equal number of lung surgeries annually. In contrast to some larger university hospitals or hospital networks where the chief surgeon delegates some open-heart procedures, Dr. Tak performs or supervises all open-heart procedures
His partner, Dr. Patel, is equally vigilant with every patient.
“Patients can feel confident that they have a surgeon with more than 30 years of experience in the field taking care of them from A to Z,” Dr. Patel said. “Our Prime Healthcare hospitals have a long tradition of open-heart surgery, and we’re committed to focusing on the patient, and driving safe and successful outcomes.”
To learn more about Prime Healthcare’s cardiology services or to schedule an appointment, call 973-576-5320 or visit heartnj.primehealthcare.com.