- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — To stop a recurring tumor, cardiac surgeons removed a woman’s heart and rebuilt its upper chambers with cow and human tissue in what they are calling a first-of-its-kind operation.

The University of Maryland Medical Center surgeons, Dr. James Gammie and Dr. Bartley Griffith, hope the operation will enable other patients with heart tumors to avoid heart transplants.

“I think that the interesting part about this is there are a lot of patients with heart cancers that we frankly have given up on, or have been unsuccessful in treating, with even aggressive removal of tissue,” Dr. Griffith said yesterday.

A heart transplant may have cured the problem. But the surgeons said it’s better for a patient to keep his or her own heart. That’s because of the possibility of organ rejection, the need to take antirejection drugs, and a 50 percent average 10-year survival rate for heart transplant recipients.

It was the fourth time 46-year-old Sandra Lanier of Ware, Mass., had open-heart surgery. She hopes it will be the last.

“It was rough, but, hey, I made it through,” Miss Lanier said, sitting in a wheelchair at the medical center.

She could be discharged within days, less than two weeks after the 12-hour operation, Dr. Gammie said.

Miss Lanier had a rare form of a benign but potentially deadly tumor called myxoma in her left atrium.

Her first heart tumor was removed in 1997 in the upper part of her heart when Dr. Gammie was at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

But the tumor returned in 1999, 2001 and this year.

This time, Dr. Gammie decided to try the procedure.

“It was certainly a more radical approach, and we felt that it was worth the slightly additional risk because each time we go back with a conventional operation it gets more and more dangerous,” Dr. Gammie said.

Miss Lanier’s surgeons expect her to make a full recovery.

The tumor was deep in her chest, so the surgeons removed her heart for several hours, as if they were doing a heart transplant. During that time, Miss Lanier was connected to a heart-lung machine.

Her heart was placed in an ice bath, where it was worked on for about 51/2 hours before being sewed back into her chest.

During the operation, Dr. Gammie took out the remaining atrial tissue and used cow tissue to replace the back portion of the atria and line up the pulmonary veins so they could be reattached to the heart.

Meanwhile, Dr. Griffith rebuilt Miss Lanier’s atria with a combination of animal and human tissue. That created baglike receptacles to channel blood returning to the lungs into the heart’s main pumping chambers.

Dr. Griffith said the animal and human tissue knitted together nicely with the remaining half of Miss Lanier’s heart.

There is still a risk of blood clots in the rebuilt atria, and she will take blood thinners to reduce the risk. The surgeons also implanted a permanent pacemaker to maintain adequate heartbeat.

Miss Lanier has been diagnosed with a syndrome called “Carney Complex,” a hereditary disorder that involves recurrent atrial myxomas. Researchers have identified only about 400 people in the world with the illness.

Dr. Griffith said the surgery last week built on his experience with a similar procedure in Pittsburgh three years ago, when he removed a woman’s left atrium and created a new one using cow tissue.

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