Robotic mitral valve surgery helps patient get back to active lifestyle quickly

Dan Moceri
Dan Moceri
Dan Moceri knew for years that he had a mitral valve prolapse — a heart valve disease that causes blood to leak backward into the left upper chamber of the heart.

But when his wife was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, he put his own health issues on the back burner for five years to care for her.

After she passed away in late 2022, Moceri went back to his cardiologist, who told him that the prolapse had progressed. More blood was regurgitating back into the chamber, and he was beginning to feel the effects of his condition.

At 69 years old, Moceri had kept in shape through biking and hiking, but now just walking up the stairs left him out of breath. “I recognized it was time to get something done,” he said.

When his cardiologist suggested surgery to fix the valve, Moceri — who had learned to research medical literature while caring for his wife — found he had two options: the traditional, open-chest surgery offered by most hospitals in the area, or the minimally invasive robotic surgery offered by the University of Chicago Medicine.

“I have an engineering background,” said Moceri, who is the co-founder of a security integration firm. “The more I dug into the robotic surgery, the more I realized there was no reason not to do it. And the experience was incredible.”

Robotic surgery is less invasive with quicker recovery for patients

For more than 10 years, UChicago Medicine has offered patients robotic cardiac surgery options, and surgeons have successfully performed more than 1,600 robotic heart procedures. Husam Balkhy, MD, is a pioneer in the field. As director of minimally invasive and robotic cardiac surgery at UChicago Medicine, he has used the robotic da Vinci Surgical System since 2006.

While traditional heart surgery involves cutting through the breastbone and opening the rib cage to access the heart, robotic surgery involves inserting robotic instruments through four or five dime-size incisions. These instruments include robotic arms, a camera, and a port for delivering the needles and sutures needed to make the repair. The surgeon then uses a console to operate the robotic arms for the procedure.

“It allows the surgeon to have a highly magnified, high-definition view of the organs inside the chest and gives them the ability to use not two human arms but three robotic arms that can exceed the capabilities of a human hand,” Balkhy said.

For a mitral valve prolapse, the surgery involves either sewing damaged flaps or inserting artificial cords to help strengthen the valve’s shape and function. “With degenerative mitral valve disease, the best thing to do is repair the valve rather than replace it,” Balkhy said.

The procedure only takes a few hours, and patients enjoy a faster recovery time with minimal need for pain management. Because the incisions are so small, patients also face less risk for infection. While patients who have traditional open-chest surgery typically stay in the hospital for five days after the procedure, Balkhy’s patients often go home the next day or two.

“It’s significantly less invasive and allows people to get back to their lives very quickly,” Balkhy said.

The number of hospitals around the country offering this sort of robotic cardiac surgery is slowly increasing, he estimates only about 15% of mitral valve surgeries are done with robotic assistance. With his expertise, Balkhy and the robotic surgery team at UChicago Medicine draw patients from around the country. More than half of his patients come from outside Illinois.

Getting back to an active lifestyle

After Moceri did his research on the da Vinci system, he met with Balkhy and scheduled the surgery for August 2023. The procedure went as planned, and Moceri left the hospital just one day later. At home, he found he only needed a few Tylenol to manage pain during his recovery.

“I was like a new person,” he said. “Five days after the surgery, I was doing 20 miles on my bike. Three weeks later, I hiked in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It was incredible how much energy it gave me and how much better I felt.”

Moceri recommends the robotic surgery to anyone who is a candidate. “It makes all the sense in the world,” he said. “People need to research and understand what’s available to them and become advocates for themselves. If you dig into it, you see that there’s no reason not to do the robotic surgery.”

After the surgery, Moceri was also able to quickly get back to work, which requires him to travel around the world.

“In my business, I’m always focused on service, and I can’t say enough about the quality of service I received from University of Chicago,” he said. “Everyone was phenomenal — the doctors, the nurses, the aides. I would go back there in a heartbeat.”

Husam Balkhy MD

Husam Balkhy, MD

Husam H. Balkhy, MD, is a pioneer in the field of minimally invasive and robotic cardiac surgery. He specializes in the treatment of coronary artery disease, heart valve disorders, atrial fibrillation and other cardiac diseases, using robotic and less invasive techniques in order to reduce pain, disability, and recovery time.

Learn more about Dr. Balkhy

Minimally Invasive and Robotic Heart Surgery

We're one of a handful of hospitals in the world that offers a wide range of robotic approaches for heart conditions.

Read more about our robotic heart surgery expertise

Robotic Heart Surgery Locations Near You