UMC offers new heart surgery

By Nicole Nielsen
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 26, 1996

Katherine K. Gardiner
Arizona Daily Wildcat

John Navas of Chandler, the first ventricular remodeling patient at UMC, describes how he feels at a press conference Friday. Ventricular remodeling allows a candidate for a heart transplant to keep his or her own heart by making the heart smaller.


An innovative, experimental heart surgery is providing an alternative for patients anxiously awaiting a heart donor.

Dr. Francisco Arabia, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at University Medical Center, has successfully completed the hospital's first two ventricular remodeling surgeries.

On Aug. 16, Arabia performed the hospital's first ventricular remodeling operation on 64-year-old John Navas of Chandler.

Navas was released from the hospital Friday.

"I'm the happiest guy in the world," said Navas. "I'm ready to run to the car."

Navas, who learned of the surgery while watching ABC's "20/20" on television, said he was interested in the surgery because it meant he could keep his own heart and not have to take drugs for the rest of his life.

Patients who receive transplants have to take immunosuppressant drugs.

Navas will have a checkup with Arabia this Wednesday in Phoenix.

To undergo the new surgery, a patient must have an enlarged heart, which is then cut down in size during the procedure.

"We're not quite sure how it works," Arabia said, "Although we think it reduces the pressure within the walls of the heart."

Because the procedure is designed specifically for people with enlarged hearts, only about 30 percent of patients waiting for a heart transplant are candidates for the experimental surgery, Arabia said.

A second surgery was performed Friday on a Phoenix man in his 50s, Arabia said.

The man is in stable but critical condition.

Since the successful completion of UMC's first ventricular remodeling surgery was announced two weeks ago, several physicians have called about the procedure, Arabia said.

Heart surgeons from around the state have been calling to refer patients that may qualify for the procedure, and patients who were previously not interested are now considering the operation, he said.

Ventricular remodeling is less expensive than, and can be performed without the delays associated with, heart transplant surgery.

Heart transplant patients may wait months for a donor, and some die because a match is never made. Once a heart is available, the cost of the surgery is about $100,000 to $150,000, Arabia said.

Ventricular remodeling costs between $40,000 and $60,000, Arabia said. It is not yet covered by insurance companies, which may be an obstacle for some patients, he said.

"We don't know the long-term results yet," Arabia said. "Transplants may be delayed for several years, or may never have to be performed."

It would be ideal if patients didn't need to have a transplant later, he added.

The longest experience any patient has had after the surgery is two years, as it was developed in Brazil only that long ago.

Arabia said more surgeons will be trained in the procedure. He is currently teaching it to Dr. Jack Copeland, head of UMC's transplant team.

Assistant Photo Editor Katherine K. Gardiner contributed to this report.