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Cardiac Surgery Expert Witnesses

The expertise needed for legal matters involving heart surgery

Cardiovascular surgery is surgery on the heart or great blood vessels. Frequently, it is done to treat complications of ischemic heart disease (for example, coronary artery bypass grafting), correct congenital heart disease, or treat valvular heart disease from various causes, including endocarditis, rheumatic heart disease, and atherosclerosis. It also includes heart transplantation.

After medical school, cardiac surgeons in the United States must complete a five-year residency in general surgery, followed by a two- to three-year fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery, which is focused on surgical procedures of the heart, lungs, and other thoracic organs. To become Board-Certified in cardiothoracic surgery, cardiac surgeons must pass a rigorous exam administered by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. They must also maintain their certification through ongoing continuing education and re-certification every 10 years. Additionally, many cardiac surgeons choose to pursue additional training and education in sub-specialties such as pediatric cardiac surgery or heart transplant surgery.

Types of cardiac surgery

  • Open heart surgery is a procedure in which the patient’s heart is opened, and surgery is performed on the internal structures of the heart. These procedures require the heart to be stopped and drained of blood, which requires a cardiopulmonary bypass.
  • Beating-heart surgery: Since the 1990s, surgeons have begun to perform “off-pump bypass surgery” – coronary artery bypass surgery without the aforementioned cardiopulmonary bypass. In these operations, the heart is beating during surgery but is stabilized to provide an almost still work area in which to connect the conduit vessel that bypasses the blockage. In the U.S., most conduit vessels are harvested endoscopically, using a technique known as endoscopic vessel harvesting (EVH). Beating-heart surgery is controversial in the cardiac surgery community, and the surgeon’s preference plays a significant role.
  • Robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery: In this type of procedure, a machine is used to perform surgery while being controlled by the heart surgeon. The main advantage of this approach is the size of the incision made in the patient. Instead of an incision being at least big enough for the surgeon to put their hands inside, it does not have to be bigger than three small holes for the robot’s much smaller hands to get through.
  • Pediatric cardiovascular surgery is heart surgery performed on children. Russell M. Nelson completed the first successful pediatric cardiac operation at the Salt Lake General Hospital in March 1956, a total repair of tetralogy of Fallot in a four-year-old girl.

Cardiac surgery medical malpractice case matter

For obvious reasons, malpractice in cardiac surgery can have devastating consequences for patients. Some examples of cardiac surgery malpractice include:

  • Failure to obtain informed consent for heart surgery.
  • Operating on the wrong part of the heart.
  • Operating on the wrong patient.
  • Puncturing an organ adjacent to the heart, such as the liver, kidneys, or lungs.
  • Leaving surgical instruments inside the patient’s body.
  • Improperly responding to complications during cardiac surgery.
  • Failing to follow infection control protocols.
  • Postoperative malpractice, such as failing to monitor the patient for blood clots.

Experienced, Board-certified cardiac surgery expert witnesses

Rieback Medical-Legal Consultants’ national network includes highly qualified experts in both adult and pediatric cardiac surgery. Our medical experts are available for both consultation and deposition and trial testimony. If you are considering a case involving cardiac surgery malpractice, contact us today to speak with a member of our team.

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