Road Trip to Quick Recovery: Patient is Grateful for World-Renowned Bypass Surgery at Baptist Health's Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

Having survived a heart attack nearly six years ago, Cliff Watkin, 62, and his wife were living a comfortable retirement in Punta Gorda, Florida, about 25 miles north of Fort Myers. Then came his appointment at his cardiologist’s office that included a “battery of tests.”

One of those tests was a “cardiac cath” procedure to look for narrowed or blocked coronary arteries.  “I failed them all,” concedes Mr. Watkin, who has been on medication for high blood pressure for years and suffers from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) an inflammatory lung disease.

He failed those tests just days before he and his wife would take a fateful, 2.5-hour road trip from Punta Gorda to South Florida, where Mr. Watkin would undergo a procedure pioneered by Joseph McGinn Jr., M.D., the chief of cardiac surgery at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute — a minimally invasive approach to bypass surgery that is known internationally as the “McGinn Technique.”

(Watch video: Hear from Joseph McGinn Jr., M.D., the chief of cardiac surgery at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, about the minimally invasive approach to bypass surgery that is known internationally as the “McGinn Technique.” Video by Dylan Kyle.)

The “minimally invasive cardiac surgery coronary artery bypass graft,” or MICS CABG, performed by Dr. McGinn at that Institute is known for sparing patients of traditional bypass surgery. That’s when the sternum of the chest is cut to access the heart, which is then stopped from beating and connected to a heart-lung machine to keep blood flowing throughout the body during the surgery.

“People don’t realize what we’re doing,” said Dr. McGinn. “If they did know what we were doing, I don’t think they would go for the traditional zipper incision. There really is no reason to have that done. If you look at the rest of all of the specialties in medicine, everybody’s going to a smaller, minimally invasive platform.”

Cliff Watkin

Mr. Watkin recalls hearing about the McGinn Technique from his doctor. “I was like, ‘Wow,’ because I know I probably would not have had my chest split open. I probably would not have gone that route at all. Because I knew that’s what was coming up. I was clogged up bad. Anyway, when we got home, my wife pulled up the ‘McGinn Technique’ on the computer … and we looked at the procedure, and I’m like … this is extremely cool. So, we jumped through all the hoops that we had to.”

Recovery from MICS CABG is only a few days — compared to possibly weeks or months for traditional open-heart surgery, which carries many more potentially serious complications.

“With typical open-heart surgery, there’s a big incision on the front of the chest where we have to cut the breastbone and separate it out to see the heart,” explains Dr. McGinn. “It’s quite traumatic, quite traumatic, and it involves a healing of a very large bone with considerable amount of pain and certainly disability.”

Dr. McGinn explains the technique that bears his name: “What I do is I take a small incision on the left side of the chest, two to three inches in length, and we go in between the ribs. We don’t cut any muscles; we don’t cut any bones. So, there’s very little healing that needs to take place for the patients to get back to normal activity level.”

To say that the road trip to South Florida was well worth the time is an understatement, says Mr. Watkin and his wife, Kathy Caldwell. He says he feels great and passed his follow-up appointment with his cardiologist with no problems.

“It was the best choice we could have made,” says Kathy Caldwell. “It’s just so amazing how well he’s done and how quickly he recovered.”

His recovery has gone so smoothly that the couple took a vacation — a road trip up to the Southern Georgia coastline and visited Jekyll Island — just a few days after his surgery. “It was very pretty. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast there. It was all good.”

And Mr. Watkin visited his cardiologist for a follow-up. “He just pulled out the couple of sutures that I had, and just looked at me and said: Wow. And pretty much patted me on my back and said: See you in a few months.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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