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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Heart surgeon’s first operation at Mary Washington was a big one

Dr. Alex Na is the new heart surgeon at Mary Washington Hospital.

It was about 11:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve when the emergency room doctor from Mary Washington Hospital  called Dr. Alex Na.

Na was home at the time. He had arrived at Mary Washington only two days earlier to be its new heart surgeon. Now the ER doctor was asking him to come back to work.

A patient had just arrived at the hospital with what appeared to be a tear in the aorta, one of the main heart arteries. A CT scan showed that a thin layer on the outside of the aorta, just above the heart, was still intact. Otherwise the man would have experienced sudden blood loss and instant death.

“He was very ill,” Na said.

Na said he had done the surgery many times before. Even so, his first operation at a new hospital in a new town turned out to be a complicated one, the repair of an aortic dissection.

“It was a big deal,” he said.

Na replaces Dr. Richard Gitter, who was placed on administrative leave in early December. Both Gitter and Na are employees of the University of Virginia Health System, which has a contract with Mary Washington to run its heart surgery program.

Na, 45, arrived in Fredericksburg from Baltimore, where he worked for the last 10 years  at MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates, a private surgical practice. A native of South Korea, he moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 8 years old. His parents and sister still live in the Washington–Baltimore area.

Na graduated from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He did his advanced training at the Washington Hospital Center and the University of Louisville.

At Mary Washington, Na inherits a program that does about 300 open-heart procedures a year, including bypass surgeries and valve work.

The procedure he did Thanksgiving week—the aortic repair—required that he and the heart surgery team use the heart-lung bypass machine and cool the patient’s temperature to 20 degrees centigrade. In effect, the team stopped all blood flow through the body.

“He was basically in a state of suspended animation,” Na said.

Na removed the torn portion of the man’s aorta, replacing it with a piece of specially made fabric. The patient is still hospitalized but doing well, Na said.

“His prognosis is very good,” he said.

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