ALTOONA – UPMC Altoona’s open-heart surgery program celebrates 25 years on Sept. 7 — the date in 1989 when cardiothoracic surgeon John Anastasi, M.D., successfully performed the first open-heart surgery between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
“There was a lot riding on that first case,” Anastasi says. “It was the most exciting time of my life. The night before, I slept not a second because so much was riding on the success of this surgery.”
In their first year, Anastasi and his partner at the time Burt Fazi, M.D., exceeded expectations and performed 150 open-heart surgeries, the majority being coronary artery bypass and valve replacement surgeries. The next year the number doubled to 300, which was 150 cases over projections.
“The community embraced the program and people were willing to stay locally,” Anastasi says. “We had tremendous support from hospital administration, the nurses, and everyone at the hospital.”
In 25 years, the landscape of open-heart surgery has changed, as have some techniques. Anastasi performs more than half of his open-heart surgeries on a “beating heart” without the use of a heart bypass machine. For single and double valve replacements, Anastasi uses a minimally invasive approach through a 5 centimeter incision. This procedure is more comfortable for patients afterward as the sternum doesn’t need to be cut open.
The types of patients Anastasi sees has also changed. Initially, most bypass patients were men in their 1950’s who were otherwise healthy. Today, an open-heart patient may be in his or her late 1970’s or early 1980’s with several other conditions, such as lung or kidney disease.
“I’m operating on older, sicker, more medically complicated patients than I was 25 years ago,” he says.
Advances in treating heart artery blockages with stents, and more options in medically managing cardiovascular disease, have meant a reduction in patients requiring open-heart bypass. Length of stay for open-heart patients has also been reduced from seven to four days.
“The day I accepted the job, I told my wife, Cathy, that it would be only for two years in Altoona,” he says. “I never imagined that Altoona would be the place where I would spend more years of my life than anywhere else. The community embraced the practice so much it was virtually impossible to leave.”