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Spotlight: Rochus Voeller, MD, says rapid advances in heart disease care have improved outcomes for many patients

The newest surgeon to join the University of Minnesota Health Heart Care team says he came to the university in part because of its legacy as an early pioneer in heart surgery and heart transplants.
Cardiothoracic Surgeon Rochus Voeller, MD, recently joined the University of Minnesota Health Heart Care team.

The bad news: You need a coronary bypass. Or a new aortic valve. Or even a complete heart transplant.

The good news: recent advances—including minimally invasive valve surgeries and transcatheter aortic valve replacements (TAVR)—have significantly changed the field of cardiac surgery. 

The result: Today, we are able to offer patients less invasive procedures with faster recovery times and improved long-term results.

We spoke with Cardiothoracic Surgeon Rochus Voeller, MDabout the recent advances in heart care—and the role that Voeller and others are playing in that progress. Voeller, the most recent surgeon to join the M Health Heart Care team, sees patients at University of Minnesota Health Heart Care — Edina.

There are so many specialties in medicine. What led you to become a cardiothoracic surgeon?

I’ve always had an interest in medicine and surgery. In college, I took part in a community mentorship program and had the opportunity to observe a few open heart surgeries. I immediately knew this was something I wanted to pursue as a career. The technical aspects of heart surgery, its physiology and the ability to help people in such a profound way give me tremendous satisfaction. Every open heart surgery is a major operation. Every time the patient leaves the hospital after a successful operation, I feel a great sense of personal satisfaction.

For example? 

Early in my career, I operated on a middle-aged gentleman who was an elite athlete. Unlike most patients we see, he was otherwise healthy with no other medical problems. After successful coronary artery bypass surgery an excellent recovery, he went on to compete in multiple national and international championship races within the same year. It is really gratifying to see results like that.

What sorts of improvements have we seen in recent years when it comes to heart surgery?

Today we are often able to perform the same operations using much smaller incisions. Minimally invasive procedures are advantageous because patients have less pain after surgery and they also recover faster and return to full activity much sooner. A great example of this is transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). Unlike traditional aortic valve replacements involving open-heart surgery, we are now able to replace the patient’s diseased aortic valve with a new valve using a catheter inserted through the femoral artery to the heart. 

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Heart Care services.

What progress has been made for patients who need heart transplantation?

There has been significant progress in heart failure treatment in the last decade with improvements in left ventricular assist devices (LVAD). These devices have now become smaller and more reliable. We are now able to offer LVAD as permanent therapy for patients who are not candidates for heart transplantation. LVADs can also help patients who are on the heart transplant waiting list, but need extra support because of a failing heart. In those cases, the LVAD serves as a bridge until a donor heart becomes available. University of Minnesota Health has a very strong heart failure program with excellent long term results in both heart transplantation and LVAD implantation

What drew you to University of Minnesota Health?

I wanted to join University of Minnesota Health’s outstanding surgical team because of its outstanding reputation and its expertise in all aspects of heart surgery. I also look forward to developing clinical and outcomes research that will help to our surgical patients.