Heart and valve surgery upgraded in Northwest Indiana

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The new Heart and Valve Institute at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart combines university-quality treatment with the quality of care of a community hospital.

“This is an opportunity to bring university-quality care into the northern part of Indiana,” said Dr. Bradford Blakeman, a cardio thoracic and peripheral surgeon, and director of the institute.

Blakeman said the institute will bring cutting-edge technology and surgical care in the area of heart and valve surgery to the region, creating the ability for specialists there to perform procedures that in the past were only tackled at university hospitals in Chicago and Indianapolis.

The thing that makes community hospitals unique, Blakeman said, is the level of care and compassion they provide to the patients. That, he said, is often missing in the university medical setting.

The combination brings together the best of both worlds and brings a whole new level of heart and valve care — which includes coronary bypass surgeries and treatment for congenital birth defects — to the region for the convenience of local residents.

“I don’t think there would be any reason people would need to leave the area,” Blakeman said.

Familiar physician

Blakeman is not new to the area. He brought his heart and valve surgical practice to Community Hospital in Munster from Loyola University 15 years ago. When Community Healthcare System decided to expand its heart and valve care services, the new institute at St. Mary’s was born.

Using the latest in valve technology and surgical expertise, the institute will be able to evaluate patients and provide them with the heart valve that will best suit their individual health needs.

Valve disease affects a large number of people and the institute will enable people to receive local care for valve diseases of all kinds. Conditions such as arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, can be repaired with valve surgery, said Blakeman, whose area of expertise is valve disease. While most heart surgeons conduct 15 to 20 valve surgeries a year, Blakeman said he completes 15 to 20 in a month.

“That creates an opportunity for an incredible volume of learning and expertise that hasn’t probably been available to Northwest Indiana until now,” Blakeman said.

A variety of valves

The institute will bring all of the available types of valves to the region, increasing the options patients have for their care.

“We’ve always believed not every valve is right for every patient,” Blakeman said.

Having access to the different varieties of tissue and mechanical valves on the market will allow doctors to consider all factors such as disease process, age and other medical problems, when making a choice on the best valve for a particular patient.

“We have the experience to know generally what’s best for the patient. We have experience with all types of valves out there,” Blakeman said.

Advances in tissue valves, both human and animal, have made the valves more desirable than their mechanical counterparts. While 90 percent of valve replacements 10 years ago were primarily mechanical, that is no longer the case. Tissue valves now have a greater longevity — more than double that of a decade ago — which has changed the whole spectrum of valve surgery and made them more popular among surgeons and patients.

“Now there’s a better longevity with tissue valves,” Blakeman said.