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Doctors Treat Some Heart Conditions Without Open Heart Surgery

New procedures allow doctors to treat and repair the heart even for a number of high-risk patients. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on some new life saving techniques.

Tens of thousands of people live with a time bomb in their chests.

They have high blood pressure or other diseases that could cause a tear in the upper part of aorta, very close to the heart.

But now doctors can fix a wide range of problems in the aorta, the body's largest artery. And they can do this without major surgery.

They can insert a long tube up into the aorta from a small incision in the leg or belly. The procedure is called endovascular thoracic aortic repair, or ETAR.

Until recently, only the lower part of the aorta could be repaired by using a stent.

But after a 12-year trial, researchers say this procedure promises to revolutionize the way a broad spectrum of heart patients is treated, especially the elderly and other high-risk patients.

Of the 73 patients in the study who had this procedure, almost half are alive today and have not needed additional surgery. It's good news for all patients, but especially those considered too sick for open chest surgery.

There are other developments in treating debilitating chest pain such as angina, which occurs when the heart does not get enough blood.

For years people, like Jim Steele, could either live with the pain, or have open heart surgery. But now, instead of opening up a patient's chest, surgeons can use robotic arms to perform laser heart surgery.

The surgeon manipulates the robotic arms and the laser to poke tiny holes in the heart. The holes relieve the pain of angina.

Dr. Eric Espinal explains how the video monitor shows what he is doing. He predicts the next generation of surgeons will have no problem adjusting.

"I think this is the next revolution, and I think as the next generation comes up, we'll find surgeons who are much better than I am. If I just think about my son, he can whip me on any video game right now, and he's only seven-years-old."

The procedure requires only three tiny incisions, no major surgery and less risk for patients such as Jim Steele.