Heart Surgery 101 – A Q&A With Dr. Daniel Ciaburri

UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute experts care for people with simple and complex heart issues. Our high-quality treatment is available close to home. We use the latest diagnostic tests, research-based therapies, and prevention techniques.

Daniel Ciaburri, MD, FACC, FACS, MBA, is the director of cardiac surgery at UPMC Altoona. Under his leadership, the heart surgery program takes a team approach to treating each person. They achieve excellent clinical outcomes.

We sat down with Dr. Ciaburri to learn more about heart surgery at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

Q: What is unique about cardiac surgery at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute?

A: We run a high-quality, state-of-the-art, community-based program. We provide high levels of service for people, their families, and referring physicians. Our team prioritizes getting people back to their homes as quickly as possible.

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Every day at work, our expert team works together to get the best outcomes for the people we treat. We rely on the knowledge and experience of doctors from all different heart medicine specialties across UPMC. Our goal is to achieve excellent outcomes.

Q: What are some common services the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers for cardiac surgery?

A: Our combined team of experts at many complex heart surgeries. These include:

  • Coronary artery bypass grafting.
  • Heart valve repair and replacement.
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm repair.
  • Ventricular aneurysm repair or resection.
  • Atrial or ventricular septal defect repair.
  • Heart tumor resection.

Q: What are some common health issues you treat with heart surgery?

A: We see people with all types of heart issues. These can be simple or complex. Common health issues that we treat with open heart surgery include:

  • Blood clots. When people get plaque buildup in their arteries, the vessel can rupture. That can cause a blood clot and cut off oxygen. If the clot is in an artery feeding the heart muscle, the clot can cause severe damage.
  • Aortic dissection. When the main blood vessel that leaves the heart (aorta) tears. Tears cause blood to leak into the wall of the blood vessel. It is life-threatening and requires treatment right away.
  • Mitral valve prolapse. When a valve doesn’t close right, it leaks, and blood flows the wrong way. When blood flows backward, it’s called mitral valve regurgitation. It can cause dizziness, an irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or fatigue.

Q: What is TAVR, and is that an alternative to open heart surgery?

A: TAVR stands for Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. It’s a less-invasive option for people needing an aortic valve replaced with open-heart surgery. It is a good option for people at high-risk who may have a hard road with open-heart surgery.

For this surgery, we insert a catheter through the groin vessels and guide it through the arteries. Once the catheter is in position, we push the old valve out. We insert a new aortic heart valve.

An interventional cardiologist works alongside a heart surgeon as a team during the procedure.

Q: What are the different replacement valves used for open heart surgeries?

A: We will fully assess each person to find the best treatment option. To find the best solution, our team looks at factors like a person’s medical history, health issues, and long-term life expectancy.

For the most part, we use two different valve types. These include:

  1. Mechanical valve. Made from pyrolytic carbon, these are similar to stainless steel. Tests show it lasts over 100 years so it can be a long-term solution. It does require people to take a blood thinner for as long as they have the valve.
  2. Tissue valve. Made from animal tissue, often cow or pig tissue, these are strong and flexible. They can last up to 20 years, depending on the person.

Q: Does having a cardiac procedure make you more likely to need more procedures?

A: This can vary based on the surgery. Typically, the chances of needing another surgery are low for people who live a healthy lifestyle. People with valvular heart surgery in their 60s and 70s are unlikely to need another surgery.

Younger people who require a valve operation may need another later in life. But a new valve is a one-time fix for most people who can maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Q: Why should people choose the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute for care?

A: We tailor our care to each person at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. Our team at UPMC Altoona closely partners with the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute in Pittsburgh.

We give each person access to advanced heart and vascular treatment options. These include novel heart-assist devices and leading-edge clinical trials. We aim to achieve excellent surgical outcomes.

We keep high levels of community-based service to benefit the people we treat, their families, and referring physicians.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.