Take a Piece of My Heart: How Safe Is a Radical Form of Surgery?
Begley, Sharon, Rogers, Adam, Newsweek
THE ANNALS OF HEART DISEASE ARE full of failed treatments and faddish operations that gave desperate patients lots of hope but little help: the Jarvik-7 artificial heart, baboon-heart transplants. A new operation devised by a heart surgeon in rural Brazil seems to have just the credentials to join that dubious-achievement list. It flouts a central tenet of cardiology. Mainstream medical groups have regarded Dr. Randas Viela Batista's claims as too unbelievable to merit time at their meetings. Some 40 percent of the 300 patients Batista has operated on since 1994 have died. Most notably, news of the unusual surgery has come not from a medical journal but from a glowing segment last week on ABC's "20/20." All of which should make it easy to dismiss the procedure as cardiology's cold fusion. Except for one thing. Almost a dozen American physicians have trekked to Brazil to observe Batista's work, and they have been sufficiently impressed that four leading hospitals are now performing the experimental surgery.
Called ventricular remodeling, the operation is meant for patients with enlarged hearts due to end-stage congestive heart failure, which directly or indirectly kills almost 300,000 Americans each year. To do the remodeling, the surgeon cuts away a section of the heart wall (diagram). Although excising living tissue has long been a cardiological no-no, Batista's operation seems to provide the cardiac equivalent of a face-lift: it makes the heart tauter. …