YOUR HEALTH: Why robots are good at fixing broken hearts

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ATLANTA, Georgia – Susan Watkins has always been active.

"I walk a lot, I work out with a personal trainer at least once a week."

She even loves horseback riding.  But last year, she noticed some unusual symptoms while simply walking.

"I got winded and I knew that's not normal for me."

An echocardiogram revealed Susan's mitral valve was leaking and needed repair.

Three million Americans every year struggle with a leaky mitral valve.  The condition can put strain on the heart, and can cause the muscle to flutter, or beat irregularly.

Cardiac surgeon Douglas Murphy says a severe leak in the mitral valve like Susan's can take its toll on the heart.

"That's blood leaking backwards at high velocity."

Susan needed surgery to repair the valve.

"Traditionally it was saw the sternum in half and operate from the front of the chest," explained Dr. Murphy.

Now Dr. Murphy and his team perform the procedure robotically, making five tiny incisions on the side of the patient.

"If you come from the side, the right side, it's a straight shot to the valve," he said.

Then the surgeon controls the robotic instruments from a console ten feet away.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  In a minimally invasive mitral valve repair, the surgeon makes a small incision on the right side of the chest, either above or below the breast, without breaking or cutting the breastbone, as in traditional sternotomy.   He or she inserts surgical instruments to access the heart and repair the valve.   This procedure typically results in less blood loss, less postoperative pain, less scarring, and a shorter recovery time than sternotomy, or open heart surgery.   Published research by NYU Langone doctors shows that the long-term clinical outcomes for 1,000 people who had minimally invasive procedures were equivalent to the outcomes of those who had a sternotomy. (Source:

Because the surgery is much less invasive, it reduces the risk of complications.

"The number one complication in heart surgery is stroke.  We see less than one percent stroke with this."

And the recovery is much faster.

Susan spent two nights in the hospital and was exercising four weeks after surgery.

"It's not even tired, my heart rate is hardly up, I don't have any problem breathing at all, no shortness of breath."

Repairing broken hearts for a long and healthy life.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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