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Heart surgery

Symbolic image of minimally invasive heart surgery: An intrathoracic clamp accessing a heart through a keyhole

Picture: / nicoolay

In open-heart surgery, the stakes are high. So when surgeon Rüdiger Lange inserts a new heart valve, he makes just a tiny incision in the skin. In 2000, the Technical University of Munich (TUM) physician became the first in the world to use this minimally invasive technique, which reduces the physical strain of the operation on patients.

Minimally invasive: low-impact surgery on beating hearts

For a long time, cardiosurgery generally involved stopping the heart and having a machine take over the key task of pumping blood throughout the body. Obviously this is a very risky intervention. Rüdiger Lange is keen to mitigate this risk by developing new, minimally invasive surgical techniques. As a result, operations can now be performed on the beating heart without having to open up the chest completely.

Instead, Lange accesses the heart by maneuvering his surgical instruments through an incision in the skin measuring just a few centimeters. He watches what he is doing inside the body via highly magnified images on a screen. In 2000, he was the first physician in the world to operate on a heart valve in this way. Lange is Medical Director at the German Heart Center Munich, part of the TUM family and one of the world’s best clinics for cardiovascular diseases.

These low-impact procedures can now be used to treat most abnormalities of the mitral valve, located in the left half of the heart, as well as aortic valve defects. In recent years, Lange and his team have also developed techniques for heart valve operations where the ribcage remains completely intact, for instance inserting their instruments via the groin. Nevertheless, minimally invasive heart valve surgery is not always possible, such as in cases of the very rare Ebstein’s anomaly. But Lange is one of just a few physicians worldwide able to correct this congenital defect of the tricuspid valve without having to replace the valve.

“As it continues to evolve, cardiac medicine – including heart surgery – will increasingly embrace procedures that can be performed without incisions or operations.”

Prof. Dr. med. Rüdiger Lange

Rüdiger Lange, Medical Director at German Heart Centre in Munich, Professor of Heart and Vascular Surgery at the Technical University of Munich

Picture: German Heart Centre Munich

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