East Carolina Heart Institute Surgeon Receives Russia's Highest Cardiovascular Medical Award

Top Quote Only Second American to Receive International Accolade. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) November 09, 2011 - GREENVILLE, NC - W. Randolph Chitwood Jr., M.D., director of The East Carolina Heart Institute, has received Russia's highest recognition for cardiovascular surgical achievement - the Bakoulev Premium Medal. The award makes Chitwood the second American in history to receive the honor.

    Chitwood received this medal from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the Bakoulev Scientific Center for Cardiovascular Surgery for his groundbreaking work in minimally invasive cardiac procedures, especially those that include use of robotics. He currently leads the cardiovascular team that has performed the most robotic mitral valve repair procedures in the world. To date, they have performed approximately 700 surgeries using this method. To date, they have performed over 2,500 operations using minimally invasive methods.

    "It's an honor to receive this recognition for an important scientific achievement that is also integral to good patient care," Chitwood said. "Ten years ago, no one in medicine believed we could robotically repair mitral valves - they thought I was a heretic. Today, however, more people are starting to do it because they realize it does improve patient care and patient safety."

    Chitwood received the award in Moscow on Oct. 12, the 55th anniversary of the Bakoulev Center. Other recipients were Alain Carpentier (France) for pioneering cardiac valve surgery, Vincent Dor (Monaco) for developing methods to remodel destroyed heart muscle, and Adib Jatene (Brazil) for being the first to correct congenitally switched major heart vessels in babies. The widow of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin received an honorary award for her support of the Bakoulev Center.

    At the ceremony, each award recipient planted a tree to be a lasting physical reminder of his/her achievements in cardiac surgery. Chitwood said he felt as though he were "standing in the shadows of giants" in his field.

    Steve Lawler, president of Pitt County Memorial Hospital, said Dr. Chitwood has dedicated his life to advancements in innovation, teaching and education, and care.

    "Dr. Chitwood's legacy includes a pathway of lives changed." Lawler said, "The lives of patients, families, colleagues and those involved in the art of health care have all benefited from his vision and commitment to excellence."

    Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, said the award is a well-deserved recognition for a pioneer and visionary surgeon.

    "Dr. Chitwood is recognized for his lifetime of achievement, right here in Greenville, and is in the company of other world leaders," Cunningham said. "This is quite remarkable."

    The Heart Institute is a collaboration between Pitt County Memorial Hospital (PCMH) and East Carolina University (ECU). The hospital is the inpatient care facility; ECU houses the outpatient education and research facility. PCMH has been an international leader in performing robotic mitral valve repairs for the past decade. In May 2000, Chitwood performed North America's first robot-assisted total mitral valve repair at PCMH and was also the first to do so using a videoscopic technique.
    Instead of a large mid-chest incision, the robotic method makes a smaller, 2-inch incision on the side of the chest and uses endoscopic instruments to repair the malfunctioning valve. The efficacy of this minimally invasive procedure, he said, equals that of the conventional open-heart method. It also decreases recovery time and limits the cosmetic impact on the patient.
    According to Chitwood, he and his team have trained surgeons from Japan, Taiwan, China, and India for a week before accompanying them back home and guiding them through the first time they perform the surgery.

    Chitwood said that although the Bakoulev medal bears his name, it really highlights the Heart Institute's expertise with robotic cardiac surgery, will increase the number of surgeons nationwide who adopt the procedure, and has turned North Carolina into a cardiac care destination. Currently, more than half of his robotic mitral valve repair patients come from out-of-state.
    "This award is a sign of arrival for robotic mitral valve surgery. It's gone from 'this isn't going to work' to 'this is the new standard of care,'" Chitwood said. "The East Carolina Heart Institute is known internationally for its vibrant training program with robotic heart surgery both for practicing surgeons and residents. Physicians across the country talk about us."

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