New type of open-heart surgery gets kids back to normal sooner, without visible scar

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Doctors at M Health Fairview are trying to change the way the public thinks about open-heart surgery. They are using a new technique that minimizes recovery time and even minimizes the visible scar.

Eric Martinez said it made a major difference for his three-year-old son Maddox, who needed the surgery to repair three holes in his heart.

"It was scary thinking about open-heart surgery," he said.

"When you think about cracking the sternum … and Maddox being so small … having that scar. It’s a lot to carry," said Martinez.

The alternative procedure is called a "vertical right lateral thoracotomy." Instead of breaking the patient’s sternum, doctors make repairs through a small incision near the right armpit.

The advantages: patients recover faster, spend about half the time in the hospital and don’t have a visible scar on their chest.

"We don’t cut any muscles, so their arm and shoulder recover and their return to activity is quick," said Dr. Sameh Said, a congenital heart surgeon at M Health Fairview.

"It is cosmetically superior to any other approach we do," he said.

"It made surgery feel so much less invasive and so much easier, even though it was still open-heart surgery. It was just a really big relief," said Maddox’s mom, Anne Berry Martinez.

So far, the procedure has been performed on more than a dozen patients, including Maddox. M Health Fairview is one of the only systems in the country to offer it right now.