New type of heart surgery performed in Chicago less invasive

The role of robots in medicine is growing.

Not only are they being used in general surgical procedures, but also in more subspecialty surgeries including urology, gynecology and gastroenterology.

Dr. Husam Balkhy is UChicago Medicine's Robotic and Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery program director, one of only a dozen or so such programs in the country. He says his program is unique in terms of the large volume and variety of cases they handle.

"We have patients coming to us from all over the country. Patients who find out they can have their surgery without having their chest cracked open is very appealing," he said.

Many Chicagoans find that appealing, including Lisa Haverty, a former kindergarten teacher in Tinley Park.


In 2018, Haverty was getting ready to retire and even though she had no known heart issues, she decided to have some tests done as baseline reference for the future. Her daughter Allison Peters remembers what happened next.

"My mom received a call the next day from the local cardiologist saying we found something really unusual in your echo. It appears there is a marble size mass in your right ventricle," Peters said.

Haverty immediately scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist at U-Chicago Medicine and after confirming her test results, she was scheduled to see Dr. Balkhy the very same day. Haverty couldn't believe anything was wrong.

"I've always been a walker. I walk several times a week doing four miles and it’s no problem at all. I had absolutely no symptoms. It was a shock," she said.

The good news was that the mass they found was benign and could be removed robotically. Dr. Balkhy made four half-inch incisions on the right side of Haverty’s rib cage, a far less invasive approach than traditional heart surgery. She says the quick turnaround stunned her.

"We basically went in on a Wednesday morning at 6:30 to check in. I was home Thursday evening at 4:30 in our driveway," Haverty said.

Her daughter feels fortunate they found out about the robotic option.

"I'm so grateful that was even an option. I heard of robotic surgery before but didn't know it was being routinely done in cardio thoracic applications," Peters said.

That is good to know considering in 2014, the last year statistics are available, nearly 8-million Americans had some type of heart surgery.