November 26, 2014

Mercy Medical Center provides Australian woman with rare heart tumor life-saving, bloodless surgery

At Mercy Medical Center, Australian Madalyn Copcutt recently underwent life-saving, bloodless open-heart surgery, a ground-breaking, minimally invasive approach that minimizes patient blood loss before, during and after treatment.

The 26-year-old newlywed and Jehovah’s Witness from Perth, Australia, was told the recurrence of a rare tumor in the left ventricle of her heart was inoperable, in part because she would not accept blood transfusions, a critical component of traditional open-heart surgery. Physicians gave her only a few months to live. 

However, she and her husband Joshua Copcutt were not willing to give up. Instead, together with family and close friends, they traveled 11,296 miles from Perth to Canton, Ohio, to meet cardiac and thoracic surgeon, Giovanni B. Ciuffo, M.D., associate, Mercy Cardiovascular Institute (MCI) and medical director of the Mercy Minimally Invasive and Bloodless Heart Surgery program.

Dr. Ciuffo performed Madalyn’s procedure October 31 at Mercy and discharged her November 3. Post-surgery results indicate the entire tumor was successfully removed.

Searching the World for a Heart Surgeon with Bloodless Experience
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions—a belief based on biblical passages about abstaining from blood and God’s view of blood as representing life—they embrace bloodless medicine. These techniques may include an advanced cell saver system, distinct surgical practices, electrocautery, synthetic hormone therapy, intravenous iron and more.

Although every surgeon contacted in Perth concluded that surgery was not possible due to technical aspects and Madalyn’s position on blood, surgeons in both Melbourne and Sydney believed that surgery was a viable option. However, they stressed that it would be high-risk without a blood transfusion and were limited in their experience in dealing with similar cases.

The family had consulted Dr Ciuffo more than two years ago at the time the first tumor was discovered, but Madalyn had surgery in Perth to remove it. When the tumor returned, the family transferred care to Dr. Ciuffo.

Joshua says, “We were very confident Dr Ciuffo would be able to help, so we wasted no time in seeking his opinion. Our lengthy discussions over the phone made it clear that he had deep experience in bloodless surgery and cardiac tumors. In addition, our Jehovah’s Witnesses hospital liaison committee in Ohio reported consistently excellent dealings with him in the past. I knew that there was nobody else in the world that I would entrust with my wife’s life.”

Bloodless Surgery: Patients Live Longer, Do Better
Over the past 15 years, Dr. Ciuffo has operated on more than 500 Jehovah’s Witnesses and hundreds of other patients with complex cardiothoracic cases. Since he came to Stark County from New York City three years ago, his U.S. and international patient base has grown.

“People from all over come to Canton for minimally invasive, bloodless surgery that is considered inoperable elsewhere in the United States—even at renowned hospitals,” says Dr. Ciuffo. “There are many Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who are sent home to die. This does not have to happen.”

In addition, his experience indicates patients who undergo bloodless surgery live longer and do better. He adds, “I’ve made it my mission to do bloodless surgery.”

Ahmed Sabe, M.D., medical director of Mercy Heart Center and MCI, believes this complements Mercy’s long-standing mission to provide quality, compassionate, affordable and accessible care for all.

“Dr. Ciuffo not only has exceptional skill as a surgeon, he is a hands-on physician who personally takes care of his patients,” Dr. Sabe says. “At Mercy and MCI, that is how we approach health care. Dr. Ciuffo’s work with bloodless medicine will enable us to take heart care at Mercy to an even more advanced level.”

In 2001 Mercy became the first hospital in Ohio to establish a bloodless medicine program. Certified by the Bloodless Medicine and Surgery Institute, Mercy bloodless medicine allows patients to choose blood conservation during medical treatment and integrates that decision across the continuum of care.

Despite undergoing heart surgery for a second time, Madalyn’s experience has had some positives. 

“I have been very impressed with the quality of care I received from the nurses and other medical staff at Mercy,” she says. “Prior to my surgery, they were respectful and supportive of my decision not to accept blood by means of the bloodless medicine program. The nurses taking care of me after surgery were attentive and kind to me. And of course, Dr Ciuffo’s patience, reassurance and respect for my beliefs has been wonderful; it is so refreshing to meet a surgeon with these qualities.”

Celebrating with a Second Honeymoon
Madalyn says she now feels nearly 100 percent, despite having open-heart surgery a little over two weeks ago. She and Joshua are ready to return to normal life in Perth, where she is a policy officer for the Western Australian Department of Transport and he is an economist for Deloitte Australia.

Dr. Ciuffo says, “Madalyn’s future looks good. But if she needs me again, I have promised her and her family that I will be here and ready to care for her.” 

To celebrate the success of Madalyn’s surgery before flying home, the couple is planning a second honeymoon in the United States—a trip they did not imagine possible just one month ago. While allowing for Madalyn’s recovery, they hope to see New York, Niagara Falls, Los Angeles and perhaps even the Grand Canyon.

Mercy Medical Center is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

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