Mercer Island MD explains Dave Ross’ heart surgery

Aug 30, 2021, 12:00 PM | Updated: 12:13 pm
Dave Ross on air at KIRO Radio. (Photo courtesy of KIRO Radio/YouTube)...
Dave Ross on air at KIRO Radio. (Photo courtesy of KIRO Radio/YouTube)
(Photo courtesy of KIRO Radio/YouTube)

There are now about a half million open heart surgeries in the United States every year. As of three weeks ago, KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross is one of those heart surgery patients.

Dave is still recovering from his surgery, but brought Dr. Gordon Cohen, MD, onto the show to explain what happened when his heart was stopped and restarted.

As someone who’s done this many times, Dave asked Dr. Cohen when he comes to the point that he’s operated on the heart and done the bypass — or, in Dave’s case, taken out the tumor — and it’s time to start the heart up again, what is that moment like?

“It’s a pretty surreal moment,” Cohen said. “… The whole process of heart surgery is pretty interesting. So how do you stop the heart and keep somebody alive? Well, it wasn’t even possible until the 1950s with the heart lung machine, and what the heart lung machine does is it does exactly as it sounds. It does the work of the heart. It does the work of the lungs.”

“So we actually hook the patient up to this machine and we take the blue blood, the blood without oxygen, away from the heart. And that’s the venous blood. And we run it through the machine, through the pump, which works as an artificial lung. That’s the lung part of heart lung, and it exchanges gas, it makes the blood red. It puts oxygen on the cells and takes carbon dioxide off the cells, and then it pumps the blood out to the body the way your heart was doing,” Cohen explained.

When someone is on that machine, they don’t need their heart anymore.

“So we can actually stop the heart,” Dr. Cohen said. “And we do that by depriving the heart of blood. Then we instill a solution down the coronary arteries, and that solution is rich in potassium.”

The potassium stops your heart, he explained, and once that happens, the doctors can do whatever they need to do to the heart, whether it’s to fix things inside, replace valves, or remove tumors.

“Once that’s done, we then have to take the clamp off and re-perfuse or bring blood back to the heart muscle itself,” Cohen said. “And every time it happens and you watch the heart restart, it’s sort of surreal that you have stopped the heart and it restarts.”

“But you know what? It starts virtually 100% of the time,” he said. “And that’s because the heart is really designed, as an organ, it’s designed to beat and it wants to beat. And if we weren’t giving it this solution to keep the heart stopped, it would beat. And, frankly, even when we have it stopped and we were depriving it of blood, if we don’t repeatedly give that solution, the heart will start to beat again anyway.”

Dr. Cohen has been practicing cardiac surgery for more than 25 years and says he is still amazed by the heart every time.

“The whole experience is sort of surreal and it never gets old,” he said.

As far as recovery, it tends to take months more so than weeks.

“I do think we’ve gotten better at understanding that,” Dr. Cohen said about recovery. “I do think we have pushed patients more over time. I think we used to let patients convalesce in the hospital for quite a long time and we would keep them on limited activity.”

“But we’ve learned that the shorter amount of time you spend in the hospital, the more you have a patient act like a person and less like a patient, the better they will do,” he said.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Dave Ross

Ross: The real reason people don’t want to return to work

The extra unemployment benefits were cut off in September and most states elected not to continue them. Yet, millions of workers are still holding out.
2 days ago
Shatner, space...
Dave Ross

Ross: Shatner’s emotional response over trip to space exactly what we needed to hear

Space travel is a trip that every billionaire who thinks he’s a master of the universe needs to take as soon as possible.
3 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Choosing the fully-vaccinated airline that makes you feel safest

Two airlines – Southwest and American –both based in Texas, have decided to stick with their plans to require employees to get vaccinated.
4 days ago
Jan. 6, US Capitol...
MyNorthwest Staff

Committee investigating Jan. 6 pushes for details from White House aides

Washington Post's David Fahrenthold discusses the investigation into Jan. 6, with subpoenas now sent to some of former President Trump's closest aides.
5 days ago
Dave Ross

Ross: Down the rabbit hole as TikTok challenges take on life of their own

Just remember kids, you’re responsible for your conduct no matter what website put you up to it, whether it's TikTok or somewhere else.
5 days ago
MyNorthwest Staff

Mercer Island MD: New accessible COVID treatment is ‘necessary step’

A new COVID-19 treatment is on the horizon. Merck’s new COVID treatment — available in pill form — has been submitted to the FDA.
6 days ago

Sponsored Articles


How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Mercer Island MD explains Dave Ross’ heart surgery