Originally created 03/10/99

Open-heart surgeries suspended at hospital



Officials at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center have suspended open-heart surgeries after four people suffered postoperative complications last month, the commanding general said Tuesday.

"It's totally self-imposed. No one is telling us we have to," said Brig. Gen. Robert F. Griffin, the hospital's chief. "We want to be able to look you in the eye and say you're getting quality procedures."

The cardiothoracic program was suspended Friday. Hospital officials are reviewing the procedures to determine where the problem is and what needs to be corrected. The general said he expects the staff to resolve the situation by week's end.

During heart surgery, the breast bone is sawed open to get to the heart, and it is sewn back together with wires. About 98 percent of the time, the incision should heal by itself, said Brig. Gen. Griffin, a general surgeon.

In 1998, Eisenhower performed 142 open-heart surgeries and only one person had complications later. So when four people experienced complications, the general decided to suspend operations to determine if there is a problem.

A variety of things can cause complications such as infection, pulmonary disease, nutrition, trauma, surgeon technique or the wires breaking, he said.

In only one of the four cases were doctors able to ascertain that a fall caused the problems. The other three cases still are being reviewed.

The hospital staff does not know exactly where the problem has occurred or if there even is a problem. The hospital's doctors and surgeons meet daily after going through the detailed surgeries with nurses, hoping to pinpoint the problem.

"We're also addressing education," he said -- teaching patients how to take care of themselves after surgery.

Since the hospital stopped performing the heart surgeries, three open heart cases and 12 heart catheterization cases have been referred to Medical College of Georgia.

It may be coincidence that a cluster of complications occurred at once, but the general said the hospital did not want to assume that.

"We want to make sure we run this particular problem into the ground," he said.

Meghan Gourley can be reached at (706) 823-3227 or mgourley@augustachronicle.com.