On October 19, 2021, Jimmy Robinson Jr. became the first patient to receive robotic cardiac double bypass surgery at UPMC Passavant–McCandless.

Jimmy, 53, recalls his mom had her first heart attack at age 42 and underwent traditional open heart surgery. And relatives half his age are now experiencing cardiovascular issues. Not only does heart disease run in his family, but Jimmy had a history of high blood pressure. So, when he started to feel his chest tightening while trimming trees in his yard in Farrell, Pa., he knew something was wrong.

At an appointment with his primary care provider (PCP), Jimmy reported his symptoms. He was immediately referred to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Horizon–Shenango Valley, located about half a mile from his home. After evaluating Jimmy, cardiologist Diana Cantellops, MD, ordered a cardiac stress test to determine how his heart worked during physical activity.

“She was excellent, and I felt that I was in the very best of hands with her,” says Jimmy.

Johannes Bonatti, MD, cardiac surgeon and director of Cardiac Robotic Surgery at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

The stress test revealed he had myocardial ischemia, which meant his heart muscle wasn’t getting enough oxygen because of reduced blood flow. The condition was causing an irregular heart rhythm, which can lead to failure of the heart muscle.

At UPMC Presbyterian, Jimmy underwent a coronary CT scan to check the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The test showed narrowed coronary arteries, meaning not enough blood was flowing to Jimmy’s heart when it was most needed.

A cardiac catheterization procedure performed at UPMC Jameson confirmed that the coronary artery had narrowed. Left untreated, this condition can lead to a heart attack. Johannes Bonatti, MD, a cardiac surgeon and director of cardiac robotic surgery at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, was brought in to discuss robotic surgery options.

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An Innovative Treatment

After reviewing Jimmy’s imaging results, Dr. Bonatti suggested the totally endoscopic coronary artery bypass (TECAB) surgery that was newly available at UPMC Passavant. This innovative treatment is used to restore blood flow in blood vessels that have narrowed.

TECAB is a minimally invasive alternative to traditional open heart surgery. During the procedure, the surgeon uses robotic instruments to bypass the blocked artery in order to allow blood and oxygen to reach the heart.

This less invasive surgery provides many benefits to the patient, including:

  • Minimal scarring.
  • A shorter recovery.
  • A return to normal activities more quickly.

“This is a complex procedure that is done usually by cutting the patient’s chest open, but now it’s managed by making five small incisions each only 1/16 inch in diameter,” says Dr. Bonatti. “We are excited to be able to offer this to patients in the northern region who need bypass surgery.”

Dr. Bonatti adds that the surgical robot enables the surgeon to perform the procedure with greater precision and control. “A tiny camera attached to the robotic arm gives the surgeon a 3D and HD-magnified view inside the chest during the operation,” he explains.

“Dr. Bonatti and I did a video call, and he explained to me what was going on and which procedure was best,” adds Jimmy. “After the call, I felt relieved and knew I was in good hands.”

Instead of traveling to UPMC Presbyterian, Jimmy had the procedure at UPMC Passavant–McCandless so he could be closer to home and his family. “It was not only convenient for me, but my support system as well. Not being familiar with Pittsburgh traffic, I felt better that my family didn’t have to go through that,” says Jimmy.

On Oct. 19, 2021, Jimmy became the first patient to receive robotic cardiac double bypass surgery at UPMC Passavant–McCandless. “He had some risk factors for delayed wound healing. This made it important that we do the procedure robotically to keep the breastbone intact,” says Dr. Bonatti.

“The objectives of this procedure were to eliminate chest pain and prevent Jimmy from having a heart attack in the future,” adds Dr. Bonatti.

Postoperative Care and Recovery

Following surgery, Jimmy spent time in the intensive care unit. Soon he was back on his feet and walking the hospital floor. “I felt fantastic,” he says.

Jimmy remained at UPMC Passavant–McCandless for six days to monitor his lung function. “The first day I woke up at home, I was full of emotions because I felt like I was 18 years old again. I haven’t felt that way in years,” he says.

He says his family members couldn’t believe he had open heart surgery because there was no big scar. “They said, ‘You’re moving too well!’ I had a hard time convincing people I had the procedure, which was pretty remarkable,” says Jimmy.

He continues to recover and checks in regularly with his PCP and Dr. Bonatti. Jimmy looks forward to getting back to tending to his garden, fixing cars, and cheering on his favorite football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I am forever grateful for the excellent care Dr. Bonatti and his team gave me,” says Jimmy.

You can find a cardiologist, surgeon, or provider at a UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute near you.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.