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U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Liliana Moreno
U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Liliana Moreno
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The heart of the matter

Posted 10/18/2010   Updated 10/18/2010 Email story   Print story


by James Spellman, Jr.

10/18/2010 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- What had been a dream for decades finally became reality at David Grant USAF Medical Center.

After years of planning, months of construction, weeks of training and countless hours in preparation, history was made Oct. 8 in the midst of 18 regularly-scheduled cases conducted in one of the hospital's seven operating rooms: a surgical team successfully completed the first open heart case done at DGMC.

The medical procedure ushered in the use of a state-of-the-art, robotically-assisted, hybrid cardiovascular operating room. It also marks the first Air Force heart case since Dec. 2006 when heart surgery programs at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas consolidated with Brooke Army Medical Center to form the San Antonio Military Medical Center.

"We are at the forefront of bridging the care from active duty to veteran status," stated Dr. (Col.) Brian Hayes, 60th Medical Group commander to nearly 200 invited guests and dignitaries in the DGMC auditorium prior to an official ribbon cutting and open house to showcase the CVOR to medical staff Tuesday.

"Our journey that has led to this day, has been long and arduous, but has produced incredible results culminating in a brand new cardiovascular program," said Dr. Hayes. "We are now able to offer state-of-the-art cardiovascular care to our DOD and VA beneficiaries both at DGMC and abroad."

A $56 million modernization effort supports the cardiovascular program at DGMC. This program is a unique partnership between the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and UC Davis Medical Center. It represents a three-year effort to bring cardiovascular services to Team Travis and northern California retirees and veterans.

"I was requested through the Air Force Surgeon General by Dr. (Col.) Lee Payne, the 60th Medical Group commander at that time, to perform a site visit and determine the feasibility of a cardiac surgery program here," explained Dr. (Col.) Jerry Pratt, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at DGMC and Chief Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery.

"In March 2008, Dr. (Lt. Gen.) Bruce Green, selected DGMC as the future site for Air Force cardiothoracic surgery," Dr. Pratt said. "Since that time we have formed great alliances with UC Davis, in particular, their divisions of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Anesthesiology and Cardiology, the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit and the Cardiovascular Operating Rooms, and a great partnership with the VA's Northern California Health Care System through a joint incentive plan."

With the ribbon cutting, DGMC opens the DOD's first true hybrid operating room designed specifically for the treatment of heart and vascular diseases.

The CVOR is currently one of only five in the United States featuring the first Artis Zeego multi-axial imaging system. It uses robotic technology and 3-D imaging software to reconstruct images of the heart and vascular systems. The CVOR is a fully equipped surgical suite designed to handle the most complex of adult open heart and vascular surgeries, as well as minimally invasive procedures.

According to Dr. Pratt, the CVOR provides a technologically advanced environment for cardiac surgeons, vascular surgeons, interventional radiologists and cardiologists to work together as one efficient team.

"It will allow us to perform combined procedures and lessen the need to relocate the patient between the cardiac catheterization lab and the operating room," Dr. Pratt stated. "It will allow us to ensure excellent quality of care and improve patient safety by performing completion cardiac angiography to assess our bypass grafts. And finally, this operating room of the future will give us the capability to perform surgical procedures of the future."

There is a longstanding history of partnership between the VA Northern California Health Care System and DGMC. Previous joint ventures have enabled veterans to receive care here, thereby further expanding the capabilities of the VA system. According to Dr. Robert Noll, a vascular surgeon with VANCHCS, this current partnership leading to a Heart, Lung and Vascular Center at DGMC builds upon this previously established foundation.

"With the two systems working together, it is our present and future veterans and their families who will benefit. As a relative newcomer to the heart, lung and vascular team at DGMC, I have been here only two months in a process that has been years in the making," said Dr. Noll.

"During this brief period of time, I have met many of the outstanding people who have worked diligently on this endeavor. The task of building not just a heart, lung and vascular center, but a program that cares for the most complex of patients in a new, technologically advanced facility is an immense undertaking," Dr. Noll added. "Ultimately, it is the collaborative efforts of individuals and groups, whether from VA, DOD or UC Davis that has made all of this possible."

According to Dr. Hayes, proficiency in open heart and vascular cases at DGMC translates into soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen saved on the battlefield as trained staff deploy throughout the world to support wounded warriors. DGMC regularly deploys doctors, nurses and medical technicians every six months to a full year to Iraq and Afghanistan. There are currently 125 personnel from DGMC in Bagram and Balad.

"Our medical professionals are saving lives every day, contributing to the lowest recorded rate of battlefield deaths in the history of modern warfare," explained Dr. Hayes.

"In fact, my nephew is alive today after being wounded during his second tour of duty in Iraq due to the superb medical care he received -- both at the battlefield and as he was transported back to our great nation via Landstuhl and Walter Reed Medical Centers."

The CVOR offers the most advanced and efficient method for complex cardiac and vascular surgical procedures at DGMC as part of a new Heart, Lung and Vascular Center. As one of the most unique medical facilities of its type in northern California, it demonstrates the latest cutting-edge medical technology now available for treating patients with pinpoint precision, accuracy, safety, care and compassion.

"The work that has been done to get to this point is just the beginning to what will now be accomplished," said Dr. Hayes. "This is an exciting time, and we can all be proud to be a part of this moment."

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