On Grey’s Anatomy this week, as Dr. Christina Yang – actress Sandra Oh – performed an operation to insert a parachute device into a patient’s heart. As she explained how it worked, her intern, Dr. Heather Brooks had one thing to say:
“That is crazyballs.”
In the scene, real life cardiologist Dr. Marco Costa is standing next to Yang though he doesn’t have any lines. Costa was there to teach Oh how to fake the surgery for the cameras because he’s one of two leading experts on the device. As a reward, they put him in the episode.
After a 10-hour day on set to make sure Oh had the steps just right, the 30-second shot aired Thursday night.
“It was quick,” Costa, a University Hospitals cardiologist, told ABCNews.com of his television debut. His face is in shadow during the scene, but the intern is holding the parachute device up for the cameras.”This kind of attention is important to create awareness and to help people that are out there that have a heart problem and have been given no option of therapy to learn that there is an option.”
The Parachute Ventricular Partitioning Device, which resembles an inside-out cocktail umbrella, redirects blood flow in a heart damaged by heart attack, Costa said. A damaged heart loses some of its shape, making it less able to pump blood where it needs to go as the muscle contracts. But the parachute has a conical shape that moves with the heart to focus blood flow, allowing the healthy parts of the heart to function normally when they would otherwise be overcompensating for the damaged parts.
Although the Grey’s Anatomy scene was short, Oh and Costa were standing over a “patient” who was awake but sedated. The parachute implantation procedure is somewhat like implanting a stent. The doctors use cardiac catheterization to deliver the parachute to the heart by inserting a tube into an artery in the patient’s thigh and pushing the device to the heart.
“We rehearsed a little so she [Oh]would understand all the little steps take place,” Costa said. “I think she did very well. I wish she was in the medical field. It would be easy to teach her how to do a lot of things.”
Although Americans invented the parachute and it is made by California-based medical device company CardioKinetix, it is not yet approved for standard care in the United States. Costa and his colleague, Dr. William Abraham at Ohio State University, are leading a clinical trial that will allow 500 patients to receive the device in the U.S. and Canada. They’ve already used it in 100 patients in Europe, where it was recently approved for standard use.
“Heart failure is an end of life disease we have in cardiology,” Costa said. “We believe a mechanical approach can make the heart work better. To take the ‘failure’ out of ‘heart failure,’ this might be one of the solutions.”
About 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the primary cause of 55,000 deaths a year.
Costa’s latest trial has already begun with patients in Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio, Costa said.
As for whether stardom has gone to Costa’s head, it’s safe to say he’ll stick to surgery.
“They told me to try to look normal, and I was like, ‘That’s easy for you to say,’” he said. “When the scene actually took place, we were more familiar with the crew and the team, but it was still not easy. I would rather do a real procedure than acting.”