Heart surgeons in Toronto perform bypass on Twitter

Surgeons at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre brought Twitter followers into their operating room today while performing a coronary artery bypass graft on a 57-year-old man to raise awareness about heart issues.

The hospital's social media team tweeted facts, photos and videos of the coronary artery bypass graft, also known as CABG, on Thursday. They are also provided information about preventing heart disease and other treatments.

Bypass surgery is done to improve blood flow to the heart, typically after arteries have become blocked with plaque due to coronary artery disease. Surgeons remove a healthy blood vessel — often from the leg —and attach it to the blocked artery.

Sunnybrook likened it to a "road detour" around blocked arteries, with the aim of increasing blood flow to the heart.

The hospital has said the patient has given permission and referred to him by his first name, Lou.

At noon, the hospital said the grafts were complete, the heart had resumed beatingsuccessfully and Lou was off bypass. A video showed surgeons placing chest tubes to prevent blood from putting pressure on the heart during recovery. At 1 p.m., they closed his chest to complete the surgery.

Earlier, doctors used a potassium mixture to stop Lou's heart, protect and cool it to reduce oxygen needs. Louwas connected to a bypass, or "heart-lung," machine to keep oxygenated blood pumping through his body during the procedure, hospital tweets said.

A surgical photo showed a radial artery harvested from his left arm, one of the patient's two bypass grafts.

Hospital spokeswoman Marie Sanderson said it's hoped the event will educate the public about heart disease. February is billed as heart awareness month.

Followers of #SBheart, which includes teachers and other Canadian hospitals, commended Sunnybrook for the event.

But Summer McGee, a professor of public health ethics and policy at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Conn., has blogged about the ethics of tweeting live medical procedures.

"Hospitals see dollar signs from great PR," McGee said in an email to CBC News.

"Physicians imagine becoming a social media Sanjay Gupta. But the #epicfail will be for patients: even an outstanding hospital like Sunnybrook cannot possibly prepare patients for tweeting about tragedy. And even when it’s exciting and has a happy ending, hospitals need to keep in mind that reality shows have an editing room … Twitter doesn’t."

CABG, while potentially lifesaving and important for some patients, is needed by only a small proportion of patients who access cardiac care, according to the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. Provinces track wait times for CABG.

The hospital believes it's the first Canadian facility to live-tweet heart surgery.

Elsewhere in 2012, Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston live-tweeted brain surgery to an audience estimated at 14.5 million. Last fall, a British hospital gave Twitter users a front-row seat for a cataract surgery.

Leading the Sunnybrook surgery is Dr. Gideon Cohen, who was featured in this CBC story you can watch below.

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