Frequently Asked Questions about Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

Here are some frequently asked questions our patients want to know about minimally invasive heart surgery:

  • Is there less pain from a minimally invasive surgery than from an open heart surgery?

    One of the advantages of minimally invasive surgery is a smaller incision, which means less healing. When there is less healing to do, your body can recover much faster. You will still experience some pain at the incision and at the surgical site. But because it is a smaller incision, you will probably experience less pain than you would with a traditional open heart surgery.

  • What are the disadvantages of minimally invasive cardiac surgery?

    One of the biggest disadvantages is that minimally invasive cardiac surgery isn’t for everyone yet. Surgeons are still discovering new ways to apply the techniques of minimally invasive cardiac surgery to benefit their patients. Minimally invasive cardiac surgery takes longer in the operating room, but results in a shorter time in the hospital and a speedier recuperation. 

  • Who is on the minimally invasive heart surgery team?

    Your minimally invasive surgery team consists of cardiac specialists who have undergone extra training in minimally invasive heart surgery. Everyone in the room, including physicians, nurses and support staff, has experience in minimally invasive procedures.

    Two of the heart specialists on your team are:

    • Cardiothoracic surgeon, the surgeon who leads the team and performs the surgery. Cardiothoracic surgeons are heart-lung specialists, and among the most highly skilled specialists. They perform all aspects of heart and lung surgery as well as heart transplants. If traditional open surgery becomes necessary during the minimally invasive surgery, the cardiothoracic surgeon is already at your side and able to switch to the classic heart procedure immediately.
    • Cardiac anesthesiologist, a physician who specializes in providing anesthesia care for patients undergoing cardiac or lung surgery. They have had years of training to become skilled in the medications and special equipment that keeps patients comfortable and monitors their health during surgery. Due to the unique nature of minimally invasive surgery, they have undergone special training specifically for minimally invasive heart surgery.


  • When can I drive a car again?

    Only your surgeon can give you a precise answer, based on your medical history and surgical procedure.

  • When did Sentara surgeons begin performing minimally invasive heart surgery?

    Sentara surgeons performed their first open heart surgery in 1967 and first heart transplant in 1989. Since then, our dedicated surgeons have refined and enhanced their surgical skills and participated in the development of technological innovations to make heart surgery less traumatic for patients.

    Our cardiothoracic surgeons (heart-lung specialists) have always possessed the highest level of surgical knowledge and training. The difference is the tools available to them in service to their patients. For example, we now use a device called an endoscope, a tiny camera that surgeons thread through even small blood vessels leading to the heart. The endoscope can rotate 360 degrees for a full view of the heart and send a video image to surgeons in the operating room. It serves as the eyes of the surgeon, with hardly any incision necessary.