International collaborations reflect prestige and expertise of UChicago Medicine Heart and Vascular Center

Milner and International Collaboration universal
Ross Milner, MD (center) welcomes visiting surgeons from Japan

The University of Chicago Medicine’s longstanding reputation at the forefront of cardiovascular care is a magnet not just for patients from across the globe: Robust training programs for leading-edge heart and vascular surgical techniques draw in physicians from around the world, as well.

Leading practitioners from around the world come to workshops at UChicago Medicine to learn directly from its renowned innovators and take groundbreaking best practices back to their home institutions. In turn, UChicago’s heart and vascular physicians are invited abroad as well to demonstrate in-person how their advances can apply in various health care settings.

The UChicago Medicine Section of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery welcomes global visitors through the Center for Aortic Diseases for workshops on endovascular aneurysm repair and thoracic endovascular aortic repair.

“The devices for these procedures are widely available to physicians outside the United States, which is why they are interested in coming to see us,” said vascular surgeon Ross Milner, MD, co-director of the Center for Aortic Diseases. “They’ll be able to take care of more complex aneurysms with a less-invasive approach.”

The Center for Aortic Disease's specialized operating rooms enable surgeons to perform highly-complex aortic procedures using both endovascular and hybrid approaches. They work together with cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, imaging experts and radiologists and have dedicated nursing teams in the operating room.

“A lot of our visitors want to learn not just how to perform the procedures, but to see how to set up the infrastructure and how the whole program works,” Milner said.

“We get a lot of very positive feedback,” he continued. “The people who come through here appreciate the time we dedicate to them, our hospitality and their continued access to us afterward.”

Cardiologist Roderick Tung, MD, director of cardiac electrophysiology (EP) at UChicago Medicine, has led international partnerships on behalf of his team. He even created a social media hashtag to sum up their work: #globalep.

“Whenever we have collaborations and I travel to another country, I use the hashtag on my Twitter posts,” Tung says. “It not only fosters the reputation of University of Chicago Medicine but also highlights that what we do is translatable around the globe.” His Twitter feed includes #globalep posts from a visit to South Korea last September and his April trip to China, where he performed live cases in five cities over five days.

Back home in Chicago, Tung has hosted workshops for visitors from China, Singapore, Australia, Korea and Japan. The Japanese collaboration was especially significant. Akihiko Nogami, MD, one of Japan’s most esteemed electrophysiologists, led the contingent from University of Tsukuba, the site of an important clinical trial being conducted by Tung.

In his workshops, Tung presents lectures and live cases of ventricular tachycardia ablation, a procedure that targets and cauterizes abnormal tissue to eliminate heart irregularities. Tung is one of the few electrophysiologists in the world who routinely performs ablation using ultra-high-density mapping.

“We use a different strategy than other programs in the world,” he said. “It’s a paradigm shift in pinpointing where the problem is going to be.”

The workshops highlight not only the UChicago Medicine team’s surgical skills but also its $2.5-million Arrhythmia Technology Suite. The suite’s Vantageview system gives Tung and his team the ability to monitor ultrasound, electrograms and 3D mapping systems at once. From the suite’s console, he can manipulate a catheter in the heart by rotations of the magnet and maneuver it with just a click of the mouse. “We can maneuver in ways that are smaller than the hand can achieve,” he said.

Tung has formed strong connections with colleagues across Asia, and likewise Milner has developed particularly close ties with practitioners in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. These have been forged through not only his on-campus workshops, but also through invitations he receives to pay a return visit, as well as his presentations at international symposia.

“People trust our experience,” Milner said. “They like having someone affiliated with an internationally recognized university whom they can ask, ‘How does this look? How would you treat this?’”

Husam Balkhy, MD, who leads UChicago Medicine’s robotic and minimally invasive cardiac surgery program, has also hosted international groups to train with his experienced robotic cardiac team.

“In terms of training, we continue to be a site for international surgeons and teams to come and visit to learn cardiac robotic surgery,” Balkhy said.

This past summer, Balkhy welcomed a team from Stuttgart, Germany, the chief of cardiac surgery from Université Hospital of Lyon in France, and a large group from the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital in the United Kingdom.

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