By Brian Johnsrud
Ten years ago, if you were to have a surgery, most likely you would have a lot of arranging to do. First, you take a personal leave from your job, your family has been notified, and after the risky operation, one week would be spent in the hospital and about two months recuperating at home in some operations. Today, similar surgeries can be performed and you can be back into your regular routine within three weeks, as opposed to 10 weeks. Every year, new surgeries are being reduced in risk, difficulty, and recuperation time.
Unimaginable amounts of medical revolutions have been forged in the past century alone. But a few minor ones that have been recently performed are giving people not only longevity and comfort, but in ways never pondered before.
In some heart surgeries, open-chest operations are crucial. Where before they would saw through a breast bone and pry open the rib cage, now, a new surgery has become a much simpler and less brutal procedure. For simple heart procedures, such as valve repairs, coronary bypasses and others, now the only remnant of a scar is three inches.
The surgery is itself shorter, and the healing time is only a few weeks. The catch with these, however, is experience. Because it is still new, it is hard to tell if the new surgery is totally effective, or at least as effective as open-chest operations. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the American Heart Association both advised caution of these surgeries last month, until more is known.
Sometimes, when the problem cannot be fixed, patients will wait months upon months for organ transplant procedures. Kidneys, hearts, livers, all off these organs are of a limited supply, and simply will not make it to many recipients in time. Recently, there has been an alternative. Not a young man's heart, or a woman's kidney, but a pig's. In Princeton, New Jersey, specifically engineered livers from pigs were used outside the patient's body to act as a filter, doing the same thing as many human livers. Heading this was Baxter International Corp. In most of these cases, the pig's liver was able to help sustain the patient until a suitable organ donor could be found.
The next hurdle is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's permission to perform transplants where the pig's liver is actually implanted into the patient's body. With luck, this can be expected within about 18 months.