Pioneering heart doctor to discuss robotic cardiac surgery, April 2

Dr. Randolph Chitwood, who pioneered the use of a small robotic system that makes heart surgery less painful and invasive, will discuss this technique and other medical breakthroughs during a Voices of Discovery lecture at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 2 in Whitley Auditorium. His lecture is titled “Medical Discoveries and Innovation in the 20th Century.” Details...

Chitwood is chief of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and director of the Eastern Carolina Cardiovascular Diseases Institute, which will open in 2008. In 2000, he became the first surgeon in North America to repair a damaged mitral valve using the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic system that translates the movement of the surgeon’s hand into movement of tiny robotic arms that repair damaged valves inside the heart.

Each year, thousands of people are diagnosed with mitral valve disease. This valve separates the left atrium from the left ventricle of the heart, enabling blood to move in the correct direction. Working each time the heart beats, the mitral valve functions billions of times in a normal lifetime.

The da Vinci System is an attractive alternative to traditional open-heart surgery, which involves opening the patient’s chest and requires long hospital stays and recovery. The da Vinci System allows surgeons to enter the chest through small incisions to make needed repairs, leaving the patient with less pain and a speedier recovery. Thanks to Chitwood’s groundbreaking work, East Carolina is now recognized both nationally and internationally as a leader in minimally invasive heart surgery.

Chitwood received his medical degree from the University of Virginia and trained as a surgical resident at Duke University. He has spent most of his career at East Carolina, where he served as chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1995 to 2003. A prolific scholar and author, Chitwood is a member of the American College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

In 2004, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley signed a bill that authorized funding of a new Cardiovascular Diseases Institute at East Carolina. Scheduled to open next year, the institute will be headed by Chitwood and will be a center for cardiovascular education, research and patient care.

Chitwood’s lecture is free and open to the public. The Voices of Discovery science speaker series, sponsored by Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, invites noted scholars in science and mathematics to campus to share their knowledge and experience with students.