Bocanegra wins "Star Heels" award

Congratulations to Ruben Bocanegra, a physician's assistant in the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, who received a UNC "Star Heels" award at the UNC Department of Surgery's Grand Rounds on June 8, 2011.

Bocanegra, a longtime employee of the division, assists cardiac surgeons in the operating room. He was complimented for being a technically superb surgeon, for having a phenomenal work ethic, and for being an excellent, knowledgeable and patient teacher of residents, nurses and medical students.

The Star Heels program allows university departments to recognize and award excellent employees. Winners receive a Visa gift card and a certificate.


Feins honored as "Friend of Nursing" at UNC Hospitals

Richard H. Feins, M.D., of the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, was honored by the Division of Nursing at UNC Hospitals as a "Friend of Nursing" on May 6, during Nurses Week 2011. See the full list of winners here.

New heart + new kidney = new life: Dr. Kiser's transplant patient talks about her experience

New heart + new kidney = new life: Dr. Kiser's transplant patient talks about her experience click to enlarge Crystal Sharpe, left, and her mother, Patricia Sanders.

A new heart and a new kidney have given a 28-year-old Wilson woman a second chance at life. In late March, Crystal Sharpe became the 11th recipient of a heart and kidney transplant at UNC Hospitals. She had been ill with kidney problems since she was 7.

Andy Kiser, M.D., of the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care, was Crystal's heart transplant surgeon.

“She should begin to start living a normal life,” Dr. Kiser said. “She doesn’t have to do dialysis anymore, but we do have to continue monitoring her heart and kidney to make sure they are working as they should. She has such a wonderful attitude and a strong support network in her family. She is very dear to a lot of the staff because she was in the hospital so long. We are very optimistic she will do fine.”

To read about Crystal and her mother and their experience at UNC in a story by Elizabeth Swaringen of UNC Health Care, click here.

UNC and Dr. Feins win grant to study surgery simulation training

UNC and Dr. Feins win grant to study surgery simulation training click to enlarge Richard H. Feins, MD

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has awarded a three-year, $1.05 million grant to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study use of simulators for cardiac surgery training. The multi-institution project will study whether resident physicians who are learning cardiothoracic surgery can become safer surgeons by using surgery simulators to acquire skills before they operate on people.

Richard H. Feins, M.D., a thoracic surgeon in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UNC, is principal investigator of the project, which will involve cardiothoracic surgery residents at UNC and physicians and residents at seven other institutions:

Massachusetts General Hospital (Jennifer Walker, M.D.); Mayo Clinic (Harold Burkhart, M.D.), Johns Hopkins University (John Conte, M.D.), University of Rochester (George Hicks, M.D.), Stanford University (James Fann, M.D.), Vanderbilt University (Jonathan Nesbitt, M.D.), University of Washington (Nahush Mokadam, M.D.).

In most surgical training, technical skills are taught by apprenticeship: residents learn surgery in the operating room, doing parts or all of real operations on real patients. Dr. Feins' study intends to show that training in cardiac surgical techniques can be improved by using surgery simulation technology combined with a rigorous, simulation-based curriculum.

The project will determine the effectiveness of using simulator-based training of resident surgeons in component tasks and overall procedures based on six modules: three types of cardiac surgical operations and three significant adverse events that can occur during cardiac surgery. The procedures will be taught using a computer-controlled, tissue-based cardiac surgery simulator which has been shown to realistically duplicate the actual patient undergoing cardiac surgery. The simulators are mannequins with computer-controlled pig hearts placed inside the chest area.

Assessment data from each site will be entered into a study database which will be developed and managed at the University of North Carolina. While the study will test the hypothesis that cardiac surgery residents can be trained to be safer surgeons by using appropriate simulator-based training, the results should apply equally well across a broad spectrum of surgical practice.

AHRQ is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant period is May 1, 2011, to April 30, 2014.

A 2011 article in Endeavors, UNC's research magazine, describes the simulation training. Read the article here.

TV report features Dr. Kiser's Convergent procedure for atrial fibrillation

TV report features Dr. Kiser's Convergent procedure for atrial fibrillation click to enlarge Andy C. Kiser, MD

The Convergent procedure, pioneered by Andy Kiser, a UNC cardiac surgeon, is  an innovative, minimally invasive procedure that provides  effective treatment of patients with chronic atrial fibrillation. A cardiac surgeon and an electrophysiologist work together to treat the inside and outside of the heart, redirecting electric impulses so that the patient reaches normal heart rhythm. The procedure offers 80 to 90 percent success rates. UNC is the only hospital in the state offering the procedure.

WRAL TV recently broadcast a report about the procedure, which is offered at UNC by Dr. Kiser and Dr. Paul Mounsey. a cardiologist. See the WRAL news article here and the TV report here.

Ex-vivo lung perfusion for transplant moves ahead

Ex-vivo lung perfusion for transplant moves ahead click to enlarge Boming Dong, MD, PhD, checks lungs with bronchoscopy during ex-vivo perfusion in Dr. Egan's lab at UNC. (Photo from AJT Report.)

Ex-vivo  perfusion offers a chance to evaluate lungs for transplant and also offers the chance to modify the lung to make it suitable for transplantation. Dr. Thomas Egan is featured in a recent update in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Feins named to "America's Top Doctors" list

Richard H. Feins, MD, of the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, was among 60 UNC Hospitals doctors recently named to the America's Top Doctors list, published by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. Read more here.

Residents learn surgery skills on a simulator


An article in the Winter 2011 issue of Endeavors, UNC’s research magazine, describes the cardiac surgery simulators that Richard Feins, M.D., and others have developed to teach surgery skills to resident physicians. The simulators use a pig heart inside a mannequin; the heart is connected to a computer that can help to create “adverse events” such as arrhythmias or cardiac arrest that might occur during surgery. Read the article here (PDF).

VADs save lives of heart-failure patients

VADs save lives of heart-failure patients click to enlarge Brian Ainsley received a VAD before getting a new heart. (Photo from UNC Health Care)

UNC has become a leader in use of ventricular assist devices (VAD) to treat patients with heart failure. A VAD is a mechanical circulatory device that provides continuous blood flow, replacing the function of a failing heart. UNC heart surgeon Brett Sheridan, MD, says use of the devices has become more common as their size, reliability and function have improved.  Read about VADs and the experience of UNC patient Brian Ainsley in an article from UNC Health Care’s magazine, Well.

Lung transplant gives CF patient a new lease on life

Lung transplant gives CF patient a new lease on life click to enlarge Wesley Telsrow

A double-lung transplant gives a 22-year-old cystic fibrosis patient a new lease on life. For the first time in his young life, Wesley Telsrow can sleep lying down rather than sitting up and laugh without coughing. Nirmal Veeramachaneni, MD, was his transplant surgeon. Read more in a story written by Elizabeth Swaringen for UNC Health Care.





Drs. Feins and Mill are on Best Doctors in America list for 2011-2012

Congratulations to Dr. Richard H. Feins and Dr. Michael R. Mill of the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, who are included in the latest compilation of The Best Doctors in America® database for 2011-2012. 

Dr. Feins specializes in lung and other chest surgery, including treatment of cancers.  Dr. Mill specializes in pediatric heart surgery.

Only 3 to 5 percent of physicians in each country where Best Doctors is present are included in its database. The Best Doctors database contains the names and professional affiliations of approximately 45,000 doctors in the United States, all chosen through an exhaustive peer-review survey that asks: “If you or a loved one needed a doctor in your specialty, to whom would you refer them?” The peer review process as well as additional research conducted by Best Doctors determines selections for each list.

More than 200 doctors at UNC made the latest list.

Lung transplant patient grateful for 2nd chance

Lung transplant patient grateful for 2nd chance click to enlarge Mary Scercy, facing camera, hugs a member of her lung donor's family.

A double-lung transplant at UNC in March 2010 gave Mary Scercy of Lincoln County, N.C., woman a second chance at life, allowing her to witness the birth of her first granddaughter, attend her son’s wedding and to meet the lung donor’s family on Nov. 5 to thank them face-to-face for their selfless generosity.

The transplant team also attended the reunion with the donor’s family. Such meetings between a donor's family and an organ recipient are rare, according to Carolina Donor Services, but after an exchange of letters, both families thought that meeting would help them heal.

“It’s difficult to find the words to describe the meeting,” said Dr. Benjamin Haithcock, surgical director of the UNC Lung Transplant Program, who was Scercy's surgeon. “What a gift to be able to meet and personally thank a family for an organ donation. It’s almost surreal, and it’s certainly been an amazing and unique experience for me.”

Read the story and see the video, part of the SECU Family House Diaries from UNC Health Care.

Project TICKER aims to improve care of pediatric heart patients

Pediatric congenital heart disease patients, a high‐risk group, receive care from many medical teams in a complex system of hospital units. UNC Hospitals provides excellent care of these patients, but is always looking for ways to improve.  A new research study aims to do just that.

Tina Schade Willis, MD, is principal investigator for Project TICKER (Teamwork to Improve Cardiac Kids' End Results), which is funded by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Pediatric heart surgeon Michael R. Mill, MD, and pediatric cardiologist Scott Buck, MD, are co-investigators. Karla Brown, RN, MSN, PNP, the nurse practitioner who cares for pediatric heart surgery patients at UNC, is an investigator.

The project will involve a partnership among hospital service units (pediatric intensive care, children's intermediate cardiac care, newborn critical care, and the operating room), ancillary support teams (nutrition, pharmacy, patient- and family-centered care specialists, chaplain), medical teams (cardiothoracic surgery, pediatric cardiac anesthesia, cardiology, pediatric critical care, neonatology) and pediatric congenital heart disease patients and their families.

The aims of Project TICKER are to implement a strong foundation of communication and teamwork for the general care of pediatric congenital heart disease patients using a tailored training program, TeamSTEPPS™ and to design and implement integrated clinical pathways (ICPs) for two of the most common congenital heart disease diagnoses using the specific teamwork tools of TeamSTEPPS and evidence‐based standardized care throughout the patient's entire hospital stay.

TeamSTEPPS is a teamwork training program for health care professionals developed by the Department of Defense and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. All health-care personnel providing care to pediatric cardiac patients will receive training in TeamSTEPPS, and the project will measure teamwork performance using a validated teamwork observation tool.

Project TICKER is funded by a $574,523 grant from AHRQ. Read more about the project.

Heart surgeon Andy C. Kiser joins UNC

Heart surgeon Andy C. Kiser joins UNC click to enlarge Andy C. Kiser, M.D.

The UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and the UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care welcome Andy C. Kiser, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon who joined UNC as professor of surgery on Nov. 1.

At UNC, Dr. Kiser joins Brett C. Sheridan, MD, in providing heart surgery for adults.  Michael R. Mill, MD, chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, provides heart surgery for pediatric patients at UNC.

Dr. Kiser is recognized as an international leader in arrhythmia surgery, having pioneered the paracardioscopic procedures to treat atrial fibrillation. Dr. Kiser has an expertise in minimally invasive valve and coronary artery surgery, performing valve procedures using only a 3-inch incision. He also has extensive experience in the treatment of cancers and other disease processes that involve the lungs, the esophagus, and the chest wall.

Dr. Kiser, a native of Moore County, earned B.S. and M.D. degrees at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed his training in both General and Cardiothoracic Surgery at UNC in 2000. He practiced cardiac and thoracic surgery in Pinehurst until he rejoined UNC this fall. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Cardiology, and the American College of Chest Physicians.

For an appointment with Dr. Kiser, please call 919-966-3382.

Early UNC transplant patient celebrates 20 years with good lungs

Early UNC transplant patient celebrates 20 years with good lungs click to enlarge Howell Graham

Twenty years ago, Howell Graham became the first cystic fibrosis patient to undergo a double-lung transplant surgery at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. Lung transplantation was then a very new procedure, but the operation, done by UNC cardiothoracic surgeon Thomas M. Egan, MD, was a success. Now, Graham is believed to be the longest-surviving double-lung transplant patient in the world. In an article about Graham that appeared in the Star-News of Wilmington, UNC thoracic surgeon Benjamin Haithcock comments on how lung transplantation has changed in 20 years. Graham hopes to raise awareness for organ donation and new lung transplant techniques developed by Egan.  Read the article here.

NPR report features Dr. Parsons

Dr. Alden Parsons, a Raleigh thoracic surgeon who completed a cardiothoracic surgery residency at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009, was featured in a report on National Public Radio on Oct. 14, 2010, about the number of doctors who are working for hospitals instead of being in private practice. To hear the report ("Hospitals go Doctor Shopping to Help Bottom Line"), click here. To read the story on the NPR web site, click here.


Health Sciences Library names room for Dr. Wilcox

Health Sciences Library names room for Dr. Wilcox click to enlarge Dr. Wilcox in January 2010.

The UNC Health Sciences Library plans to rename its Historical Collections Reading Room as “The Benson Reid Wilcox Historical Collections Reading Room” in recognition of Dr. Benson Wilcox.

Dr. Wilcox, a heart surgeon and UNC School of Medicine graduate, served 29 years as chief of the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. He died May 11, 2010, after a courageous battle with brain cancer. He had a longtime interest in medical history and rare books, and supported the Health Sciences Library by donating a large collection of rare medical books and supporting the library financially. He had been an active member of the library’s Board of Visitors since 1995.

The renaming was approved by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) Board of Trustees during their July 22, 2010 meeting. Read more here.


Lung transplant research leaps forward

An article in UNC's Endeavors magazine, a publication about discoveries and creativity at the university, highlights the research of Dr. Thomas Egan and his collaborators.
Lung transplant research leaps forward click to enlarge Dr. Egan and patient Joy Cook, who received a lung transplant in 2006, in her senior year at UNC. (Photo from Endeavors magazine)

They are now testing and perfecting a new technology that could drastically increase the number of lungs suitable for transplant. Egan thinks it could also help surgeons to draw from a new donor pool - people who have died outside the hospital and have not been on life support.

The article also features two of Dr. Egan's lung transplant patients.

To read the Endeavors article, click here.






Benson R. Wilcox, M.D., 1932-2010

Benson R. Wilcox, M.D., 1932-2010 click to enlarge Dr. Wilcox, January 2010.

Benson Reid Wilcox, M.D., a heart surgeon who served 29 years as chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died May 11, 2010, at his home after a courageous battle with brain cancer. He was 77.

Dr. Wilcox served as chief of cardiothoracic surgery at UNC from 1969 to 1998. During that period, which was a time of dramatic advances in heart and lung surgery, the UNC hospital began offering coronary artery surgery, heart and lung transplantation, successful surgery for congenital heart defects in newborn infants, and a comprehensive program for the treatment of lung and esophageal cancer.

Dr. Wilcox was primarily a pediatric heart surgeon whose specialties were congenital heart disease, pediatric cardiac morphology, pediatric chest disease, and pulmonary circulation. He was a co-author of three books and an author of numerous medical journal articles and book chapters. He held important leadership posts in national medical organizations and was especially interested in the training of future surgeons.

Dr. Wilcox, known as Ben, was born May 26, 1932, in Charlotte, N.C., the son of James Simpson Wilcox and Louisa Reid Wilcox. He was raised in Charlotte and graduated from the Darlington School in Rome, Ga., in 1949. He was named 1997 Distinguished Alumnus of the Darlington School.

He earned an A.B. in history from the University of North Carolina in 1953 and an M.D. from the UNC School of Medicine in 1957. As an undergraduate at UNC, he was president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Rex of the Order of Gimghoul. At the UNC medical school, he was president of his class and was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society in 1957.

While a medical student in 1956, Dr. Wilcox helped to conduct laboratory research on the application of newly developed heart-lung machines. A heart-lung machine was first used in the operating room at UNC in April 1957, beginning the era of open heart surgery at North Carolina Memorial Hospital.

After serving as a surgery resident at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis (1957-1959) and North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill (1959-1960), he spent two years as a surgical clinical associate at the National Heart Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. He then returned to UNC as chief resident in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery (1962-63) and as chief resident in surgery (1963-64).

He joined the UNC Department of Surgery faculty in 1964 and was appointed as chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 1969 and as a full professor in 1971. He was named a Markle Scholar in Academic Medicine in 1967. After he retired as chief of cardiothoracic surgery, Dr. Wilcox remained on the UNC medical school faculty as Professor of Surgery from 1998 until his death.

Dr. Wilcox served the university in a number of other capacities. He was a member of the Selection Committee for the North Carolina Fellows Program; the UNC Faculty Committee on Athletics, serving as chairman from 1977 to 1985; and the Morehead Foundation’s Central Selection Committee, serving as chairman from 1989 to 1992. He was on the university’s Faculty Council and other campus-wide committees. He was a member of the executive committee of the Atlantic Coast Conference from 1978 to 1982 and was its president from 1980 to 1981. He also served on the board of directors of the Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill from 1981 to 1999.

He held leadership positions in prestigious professional organizations, including chairman of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, chairman of the Advisory Council for Cardiothoracic Surgery of the American College of Surgeons, president of the Nathan A. Womack Surgical Society, and president of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the largest society of thoracic surgeons in the world. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons in 2003.

He had a strong interest in graduate medical education, the training of resident physicians. He was instrumental in establishing the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association (TSDA) which was formed to improve cardiothoracic surgery training and education for doctors, and whose members are directors of cardiothoracic surgery residency programs across the United States. From 1985 to 1987, he served as president of TSDA. In 2009, the TSDA honored him by establishing the Benson Wilcox Award for Best Resident Paper, to be presented each year at The Society of Thoracic Surgeons' annual meeting for the best scientific abstract submitted by a cardiothoracic surgery resident.

He also was on the Board of Directors of the National Resident Matching Program from 1998 to 2007, serving as president from 2001 to 2002. He was a member of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s Residency Review Committee for Thoracic Surgery (1999-2005); the American College of Surgeons’ Graduate Medical Education Committee (1993-2001); and a member of the Committee on Graduate Education for the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (1992-2001).

In 1980, Dr. Wilcox spent time during a sabbatical at Royal Brompton National Heart and Lung Hospital in London, beginning a collaboration with Robert H. Anderson, M.D., a pediatric morphologist at Royal Brompton. After that visit, he and Dr. Anderson worked together on many research projects and publications, including the book Surgical Anatomy of the Heart (Raven Press, 3rd edition, 2004). The two physicians established a program that for many years enabled UNC cardiothoracic surgery residents to spend time in London studying with Dr. Anderson and attending rounds with him. Dr. Anderson also visited UNC.

Dr. Wilcox also was co-author of Atlas of the Heart (Gower Medical Publishing, 1988); and a co-editor of Diagnostic Atlas of the Heart (Raven Press, 1994). He was an author of more than 100 scientific and clinical articles that were published in medical journals.

After operating on many ill children, Dr. Wilcox had the idea of starting a support group for families of children who are undergoing heart surgery. The Carolina Parent Network, begun in 1986 and directed by Maggie Morris for many years, enables parents of children who are facing heart surgery at UNC to talk to parents who have already had the experience, and it also educates families about what to expect before, during and after surgery.

Dr. Wilcox loved history, especially medical history. As a medical student at UNC, he helped found the Bullitt Club for the study of the history of medicine. As a faculty member, he began collecting old and rare books about the history of medicine, particularly books about thoracic surgery and the specialties that preceded it. In 1984, he began presenting a rare book to the UNC Health Sciences Library each year in honor of his chief resident. In 1998 and 1999, he donated most of his medical book collection to the library. Since then the Benson Reid Wilcox Collection has grown to more than 1,400 books, journals, reprints and other items. He served on the board of visitors for the UNC Health Sciences Library.

"Dr. Wilcox' contributions to the historical collections at the Health Sciences Library were truly remarkable in both variety and scope. An avid and erudite bibliophile, he thrilled in the hunt for significant texts, and had a deep appreciation for the role of history in the theory and practice of medicine," said Daniel Smith, special collections librarian for the UNC Health Sciences Library.

Dr. Wilcox is survived by his wife, Patsy Davis, and by his four children: Adelaide W. King and her husband, Ruffin, of Charlottesville, Va.; Sandra W. Conway and her husband, Peter, of Charlotte, N.C.; Melissa W. Bond and her husband, Brett, of Charlotte; and Reid Wilcox and his wife, Suzanne, of Greensboro, N.C. He is also survived by 11 grandchildren, Alexandra and Ruffin King; Peter, Ben and Adelaide Conway; Brett, Lucinda and Reid Bond; and Ben, Henry and Ellie Wilcox. He is also survived by two stepdaughters, Harriet Kendall and Julia Klein; a brother, Bob Wilcox; two sisters-in-law, Dede Thompson and Louise Wilcox, and a brother-in-law Allan Davis. He was predeceased by his parents and by his brother Jim Wilcox.

A memorial service was held Friday, May 14, in Gerrard Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial gifts to the TSDA Benson R. Wilcox Award. Checks can be made to the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association and mailed to Michael R. Mill, M.D., Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, CB#7065, UNC-CH, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-7065.



Cardiothoracic surgery simulators

The Center for Cardiothoracic Simulation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has developed two simulators which allow for a full operative experience with cardiac surgery and with lung surgery (both open and thoracoscopic) without the use of live animals.
Cardiothoracic surgery simulators click to enlarge The lung surgery simulator is used for training in video-assisted surgery (VATS).

The lifelike simulators are used in cardiothoracic surgery education and training at the local and national levels. The simulators use organs that have been re-animated using hydraulics, reperfusion, and computer orchestration, and are then placed in a human equivalent model.

Dr. Richard Feins of the UNC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, is director of CCTS.

For more information about the simulators and to see three videos of the simulators in use, click here.