Dovie Burnett Bates is farming and canning vegetables today, thanks to robotics, and one of the world’s foremost cardiac surgeons at the Texas Medical Center.
Dovie, 68, has devoted much of her life to growing and canning vegetables at her farm south of Lufkin, Texas. When she started having chest pains, the Colmesneil resident suspected a stent placed in her heart three years ago was failing. Her cardiologist confirmed a blockage and she underwent an unsuccessful second stent placement. It was a life-threatening situation. The main artery feeding Dovie’s heart was 100 percent blocked.
It used to be that a patient's only option was open heart surgery, a major event with a difficult, months-long recovery. Since Dovie is diabetic, that would have been a high risk.
She was referred to the only cardiac surgeon in the Texas Medical Center who could perform a robotic bypass operation without opening up her chest – Dr. Kenneth Liao, Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center's Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Transplantation & Circulatory Support and the Lester and Sue Smith Endowed Chair at Baylor College of Medicine. He is one of the few cardiac surgeons in the United States using the DaVinci Robotic Surgical System to perform coronary artery bypass surgery and mitral valve surgery. Dovie would be Dr. Liao's 500th patient at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center to undergo robotic heart surgery.
In a 3-hour procedure, Dr. Liao used the robot to harvest an artery from the chest wall to use it as a bypass conduit. “Most of the time, or conventionally, in order to mobilize this artery, we would need to open her sternum, harvest the artery and then utilize a heart-lung machine to stop her heart. We would then perform the bypass. In this case, we did not have to do that,” Dr. Liao said.
The robotic procedure resulted in less blood loss, a lower risk of stroke and wound infection, and a quicker recovery. Dovie spent 6 days in the hospital and was discharged home. She was ordered not to lift anything over 5 lbs for two weeks. Just three weeks post-procedure, Dovie was participating in cardiac rehab, walking on the treadmill, riding the exercise bicycle and working on her upper and lower body strength.
"I feel great today," Dovie insisted. "And I feel very fortunate - I have spoken to at least six people who underwent open heart surgery and their recovery was very difficult. Open heart surgery takes so much longer to recover - when I told my pharmacist, who underwent open heart surgery herself, that I had the procedure just two weeks before, she could not believe it!"
Dr. Liao was an early adopter of robotic cardiac technology, using it for the first time in 2003. “At that time, it was very difficult because the early robotic technology was very difficult to use and had a stiff learning curve. We’re now on the fourth-generation technology,” he said, adding that as one of the largest cardiac training programs in the country, Texas Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine are well suited to train future heart surgeons in robotic technology. “In five to ten years, I think we will see more robotic heart surgeries performed in many, many places. We are leading the way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dovie, a beneficiary of this minimally invasive robotic technology, is already making plans for her next crop of squash, cucumbers, mustard and turnip greens and jalapenos. If you are ever at the monthly farmers market in Kountze, Texas, you will no doubt find Dovie selling her canned creations. She is especially proud of her pineapple jalapeño jelly and bread & butter pickles. According to Dovie, “They’re awesome.”