Valve Repair First in New England Done With Robotic Device

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Alfred man chooses innovation after counseling from Patient Advocates in Gray.

I've never been in the hospital before, but they made the process easy. I'm glad I had the information I needed to choose this procedure.

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A York County man recently became the first person in New England to undergo a robot-assisted repair of the valve that allows blood into the heart, with support from a Maine company that helps patients select and obtain the best-possible treatment for serious conditions.

Thomas Holland of Alfred, Maine, received the mitral valve repair surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, after consulting with health professionals at Patient Advocates in Gray, Maine. The procedure, using the da Vinci Surgical System, had never previously been performed in New England.

During the eight-hour procedure, Dr. Arvind Agnihotri viewed the surgical area as a three-dimensional environment, magnified to 10 times its actual size. Agnihotri, a cardiac surgeon, controlled the da Vinci's actions through small, highly precise hand and wrist motions.

Holland chose the procedure after learning from nurse-advocates at Patient Advocates that the technique is less invasive than traditional surgery, which requires a much-larger incision and the splitting of the breastbone for access to the heart. The robot-assisted surgical option, which involves tiny incisions between ribs, also can reduce the risk of infection, minimize blood loss and cut recovery times by weeks.

"I know other people who have had valve surgery without the robot, and they have a lot longer recovery times. I feel like I could go back to work today," said Holland, a welder at The Baker Co. in Sanford. "The doctors didn't even have to give me one of those heart-shaped pillows that they tell people to hold against their chest when they cough to keep from breaking open. I don't have the big hole in my chest that most patients do."

As Holland was considering whether to choose this procedure, nurse advocates at Patient Advocates gathered technical data, spoke with medical professionals at Massachusetts General and produced other research for him. Patient Advocates administers The Baker Co. self-insurance health plan, and medical advocacy is a core service provide to the members of such plans.

"Patients deserve access to the most leading-edge procedures available, which is why we work so closely with centers of medical excellence such as Massachusetts General," said Jim Ward, president and founder of Patient Advocates. "Not only is careful treatment research and analysis the right thing to do for patients, that advocacy also can create substantial cost savings.

"When patients receive the right care, they get healthy and return to work as quickly as possible," Ward said. "You don't have the expensive and unnecessary secondary treatments that happen when things aren't done right the first time."

Many members of health plans administered by Patient Advocates travel to centers of medical excellence for treatment, and patients receive support throughout that process.

"We often travel to Boston with patients to help them navigate the health care system. They appreciate that we're working to make sure everything goes smoothly," said Rosemary Simmons, RN, a nurse-advocate at Patient Advocates. "In this case, Tom felt comfortable enough with the procedure, after learning about it and seeing the research, that he didn't feel like he needed to have someone with him."

In recent days, Holland has been taking his boat out on the ocean to check on lobster traps. He has nothing but praise for the medical professionals he worked with at the hospital and Patient Advocates.

"They answered all my questions and made me feel really comfortable," he said. "I've never been in the hospital before, but they made the process easy. I'm glad I had the information I needed to choose this procedure."

About Patient Advocates
Patient Advocates LLC has been helping clients navigate the health care system since 1995. Employers trust PA to help manage their costs while ensuring the highest quality of care for their employees. Built on the premise that access to the highest quality health care results in greater cost-savings over time, Patient Advocates offers innovative patient advocacy and disease management services, award-winning wellness programs and creative benefit plan designs with third-party administration.

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