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June 7, 2011 > Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery Offers Faster Recovery

Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery Offers Faster Recovery

Fremont Resident is Thankful for New Technology

Despite staying active and eating a healthy diet, Harold Mallett found himself in need of heart surgery late last year. Thanks to leading-edge technology at Washington Hospital, he received a minimally invasive procedure that helped him get back on his feet much quicker than traditional open heart surgery.

"I take good care of myself, but my family has a history of heart problems and I guess it just caught up with me," Mallett says. "My son has had two open heart surgeries and he's only 46. My nephew dropped dead of a heart attack at his senior class picnic."

Last December when Mallett went in for his regularly scheduled checkup, his physician Dr. Hemant Patel, discovered an irregular heartbeat. He was diagnosed with mitral valve disease.

The mitral valve is the inflow valve for the left side of the heart. Blood flows from the lungs into the left atrium of the heart and then through the mitral valve to the left ventricle.

"There was abnormal tissue in the supporting structure around the valve itself," says Dr. Jon-Cecil Walkes, the cardiothoracic surgeon who performed the minimally invasive mitral valve repair surgery. "The valve had become ruptured and it started to leak. He needed a very complex repair of the mitral valve. I believe it was the first repair of its type performed at Washington Hospital."

Walkes had to actually rebuild part of the valve in order to repair it. He said he prefers to repair the valve rather than replace it if at all possible because it preserves heart function better and lowers the risk of complications.

Mallett was referred to Walkes when his cardiologist determined that his mitral valve was leaking and he would be a good candidate for the surgery.

"I was told they have a new procedure where they don't need to open up your chest and that sounded good to me," Mallett says. "Dr. Walkes said the mitral valve might need to be replaced if it couldn't be repaired. Fortunately, he was able to repair it. He and his staff were really amazing."

In March, Mallett was admitted to Washington Hospital to undergo the surgical procedure. Unlike traditional open heart surgery, where the breastbone is actually cracked to provide access to the heart, the surgery required only two small incisions.

Back on His Feet

"This type of minimally invasive heart surgery decreases the risk for blood transfusions and other complications, and allows patients to get back to their normal activity much faster," Walkes says. "There is a lot less trauma to the body."

Two months after his surgery, Mallett is feeling good. The retired truck driver isn't back to his part-time job delivering See's candy yet, but he is definitely on the road to recovery.

"I'm pretty much back to normal," he says. "I still get tired if I do too much. But I'm moving around and walking. I like to walk around the park near my house."

Mallett was pleased with the care he received at Washington Hospital, both with the surgery and the recovery afterward. Physical therapists helped him get back on his feet and his cardiologist continues to monitor his recovery.

He said that he and his wife had a good feeling about Walkes when they first met with him and felt even more comfortable as he explained the procedure and began to prepare them for the surgery.

"We're both from Texas," Mallett says. "My hometown is about 60 miles from where Dr. Walkes grew up."

Mallett came to California in 1962 to get involved in the fledgling computer industry, but instead joined the Teamsters.

"It's funny how things work out," he said. "I've had a good life. I've got four children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and I'm proud of them all. I'm grateful I'll be able to stick around for a while."

Mitral valve disease is a serious heart condition that can lead to heart failure, according to Walkes. He encourages anyone who has the disease to be evaluated for the minimally invasive procedure.

"This is really the wave of the future," Walkes says. "More and more people will be treated for heart disease without having their chest cracked and instead will be offered this newer technique, something we are already doing at Washington Hospital."

Learn More About Cardiothoracic Surgery

Visit to learn more about the Cardiothoracic Surgery Program at Washington Hospital. The website features short videos of Dr. Walkes describing mitrial valve repair and coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.

To find a physician close to you, visit

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