Patient Awake During Heart Surgery

M I A M I, Aug. 12, 2000 -- A 61-year-old man stayed awake for the entire 4-hour, 10-minute open heart surgery operation performed on him by a team of three doctors.

Dr. Mark Anderson of the Miami Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center

performed a single coronary artery bypass graft Thursday using only

an epidural, an anesthetic shot injected into the spinal cord.

The operation began at 8:10 a.m. and was over at 12:20 p.m. The

patient, whose name was not made public, was reported to be in

stable condition at the hospital Thursday evening.

The two doctors who assisted in the operation, Juan Restrepo and

Gerard DeSouza, said they believed the operation was just the

second of its kind to be performed in the United States.

“This is a very tricky operation,” Restrepo said after the

procedure. “As well as upsides, there are risks in doing it this


The anesthetic procedure meant doctors did not have to insert a

tube down the patient’s windpipe. Using an epidural instead of a

general anesthetic also reduces a patient’s recovery time, in part

because there is much less stress response on a respirator.

The downside, said DeSouza, is that a higher level of anesthesia

is injected into the spinal cord than is used with general

anesthesia. That means the anesthetic has to be closely monitored

because it can stop a patient from breathing.