The first such operation, using electrodes instead of a scalpel, was performed on a young woman suffering from irregular heartbeat since early childhood.
"Doctors have worked a miracle. I was reborn into a new life, hopefully, one where there will be no room for the fear of pain and death," an overjoyed Yulia, 30, said as she was checking out of hospital just three days after the operation.
Irregular heartbeat, referred to in scientific quarters as arrhythmia, is more often than not a consequence of a congenital heart disease. It is a very uncomfortable condition that may lead to cardiac arrest.
"I would feel extremely dizzy, and the [arrhythmia] bouts became longer with age," Yulia recalled. She didn't think twice about volunteering for the experimental operation despite all the risks involved.
The procedure took just over a minute to carry out - 64 seconds, to be precise, but it was preceded by a thorough computer-aided examination, aimed at localizing the focal point of the disease. During the pre-operation checkup, a three-dimensional model of the patient's heart was mapped out to help the surgeons navigate through the organ.
"We made the model to find out more about what the heart's anatomy looks like and how an impulse spreads through from the body's surface. We were then able to transfer all that [data] on to a living heart before the start of the operation and to approach the problem area with the help of catheters, targeting the focal point of the arrhythmia," said Professor Amiran Revishvili after operating on Yulia.
Only local anesthesia was used, so the patient remained conscious all along. She was not in pain - the heart has no nerve ends in it - and could speak with the doctors and even with reporters invited to witness the groundbreaking operation.
The innovative method of scalpel-free heart surgery, employing high-tech equipment, is quite costly at this point, and its developers at the Bakulev Center are trying to find a way to make it affordable to everyone in need. It would, indeed, be a welcome breakthrough, with statistics showing that heart disease is the most prevalent cause of death around the world, and accounts for as much as 52% of mortality in Russia.
Alexander Bakulev, a pioneer heart surgeon, established his institute in 1956 and performed Russia's first cardiac operation a year afterward.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.