Everett Roberts, a resident of Pomona, California, United States, was discouraged upon hearing from physicians at a medical institution that he had a 40-percent chance of surviving an open-heart surgery to repair his failing valve. Yet the 71-year-old veteran’s spirits lifted when cardiothoracic surgeon Joshua Chung offered him a safer, less invasive option — repairing the mitral valve via robotic surgery.
“Dr. Chung told me the chances of things going wrong were around 1 to 2 percent — that’s way better than 40 percent [survival rate],” Roberts said. “I shudder to think of what almost could’ve been had I not gone to Loma Linda University Health for my care.”
Located on the left side of the heart, a mitral valve warrants repair when it is no longer able to properly function due to leakage causing blood to backflow from the heart into the lungs. Such was the case for Roberts, whose mitral valve was leaking half of his oxygenated blood back toward his lungs.
He soon struggled to run his routine five-mile (eight-kilometer) course every other day, as he had done most of his life. Dissatisfied with the high risk of open-heart surgery, compounded by his chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) diagnosis, Roberts said he sought care from physicians at Loma Linda University Health (LLUH) who could provide robotic mitral valve repair.
During a robotic mitral valve repair, a cardiac surgeon’s hands control the movement of surgical instruments attached to a machine’s thin robotic arms. The procedure leaves 2-inch (5 cm) incisions on the right side of the chest, as opposed to 6- or 8-inch (15-20 cm) scars in the middle of the chest through the breastbone associated with traditional open-heart surgery. Aside from smaller incisions, Chung said mitral valve repairs conducted robotically hold other advantages over open-heart surgery for patients, including less invasion and risk, reduced bodily stress, faster recovery time, and excellent outcomes.
“If I hadn’t gone to LLU, I wouldn’t be doing the things I want to be doing,” Roberts said. “That non-invasive procedure changed my life for the better — I know that for a fact. I’d advise anyone who has the option to do the procedure to definitely do it.”
Whereas six months before surgery, Roberts said he could barely walk a mile (1.6 km), he now reports having trekked a total of 162 miles (260 km) in the four months after his surgery — not to mention indulging in some dirt biking and golfing as well. A “tinkerer” by nature, Roberts said he has since been able to tackle home projects such as tuning up motorcycles and assembling a snowblower for use at his mountain cabin. Most of all, Roberts said he cherishes the time he’s been able to spend with loved ones, including his wife, children, and grandbaby.
Roberts became the fourth patient to undergo the procedure at the hospital in October 2020. He said he appreciated the care team's professional communication skills and compassion, which he felt most strongly when nurses prayed with him during his hospital stay. Raised a Seventh-day Adventist himself, Roberts said the touching gesture hit close to home.
“Thanks to Dr. Chung and the team who took care of me, I will have a long and heart-healthy future,” Roberts said.
Since its first robotic mitral valve replacement in September 2020, Loma Linda University International Heart Institute has been the only center to offer the procedure in the region — a service that Chung said is beneficial for residents of the region who need not travel to faraway locations to obtain the care they need.
“We are ready to take on more of these procedures and continue to help patients whose lives could be saved from this kind of intervention,” he said.