Heart of a Champion – Antisha Anderson

heart of champion

In 2007, Antisha Anderson was an outgoing, rising star in competitive track and field. Bursting with energy, she was doing so well, in fact, that she had been recruited to join an exclusive professional team in Los Angeles to train for the Olympics. She had it all—including a walnut-sized tumor in her heart. The tumor was nothing new. She had learned about it six years earlier as a freshman at Clemson University in South Carolina. Located on a valve in her heart, it was the size of a pea. Her doctor said it would grow no larger and cleared her for training. But Antisha had the surprise of her life after collapsing during track practice. Rushed to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, she learned that the tumor had grown—and would continue to do so.

“They said it could grow to be the size of a softball,” she exclaims. “I thought, ‘A softball’s bigger than my heart!’ And I didn’t need to have that.” Although a tumor such as Antisha’s is uncommon, the physicians and staff at the Long Beach Memorial Heart and Vascular Institute care for a wide range of cardiac diseases and conditions. The hospital is a leader in cardiothoracic surgery, performing more than 600 open-heart operations each year.

For Antisha, there was little time to delay—immediate surgery to remove the tumor was critical. Then her surgeon, Daniel Bethencourt, MD, medical director of Cardiac Surgery at Long Beach Memorial, gave her some surprising news: He would perform the operation with the da Vinci S Surgical System, a minimally invasive robotic assistant. “Although the surgeon is in control at all times during the operation, the da Vinci’s robotic arms are steadier than human hands and allow for extremely precise movements through small incisions,” Dr. Bethencourt says. The robot also produces highly detailed, three-dimensional images from inside the patient that guide surgeons as they work. Furthermore, the flexibility of the robot’s ”wrists” lets surgeons maneuver freely in hard-to-access areas of the body as they grasp, cut, cauterize, stitch and perform other delicate procedures.

For patients such as Antisha who are anticipating a heart operation, the advantages of the minimally invasive da Vinci system are particularly evident. Scarring is greatly reduced, and instead of the foot-long incision required for conventional surgery, there are just three small puncture-sized “ports of entry” where the robot’s tools are inserted. Because the ribs are not cut to reach the heart, post-operative pain is minimized. Best of all, recuperation is much quicker. In conventional open-heart surgery, patients typically wait three months to resume full activity. With the da Vinci’s minimally invasive approach, wait time can range from one to six weeks, depending on the procedure. “The da Vinci system has revolutionized the field of surgery and is rapidly becoming one of our most essential tools,” says Dr. Bethencourt, who performs 100 such procedures each year. “It promises to increase the scope of minimally invasive surgery substantially.”

With her Olympic dream in sight, Antisha willingly agreed to have Dr. Bethencourt perform her operation using the da Vinci system. Her recovery was astonishing, spurred on by the advantages of minimally invasive surgery and her physical condition as a lifelong athlete. “Four hours out of the surgery, I was already kicking my legs and moving around,” she says. “The nurses were asking me, ‘Are you sure you had heart surgery?’ They made me feel special, and I really appreciated it.”

Today, Antisha is back to pursuing her goal of participating in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. This time around, she’ll be running with her whole heart—strong and healthy, thanks to physicians and staff at Long Beach Memorial and their remarkable robotic assistant.