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Cardiothoracic surgeon Zain Khalpey could have worked anywhere when he joined Northwest Healthcare earlier this year. He has worked at Columbia University, Harvard University and was awarded the Distinguished Fulbright Chair in Medical Sciences in 2016. Serving the Tucson community since 2012, Dr. Khalpey began working at Northwest Healthcare in January because of the options it provided both him and the patients he serves.  

“I had the opportunity to go anywhere I wanted,” he said. “And I chose to go here because the opportunities and the people were amazing.” 

According to Northwest Medical Center CEO Jennifer Schomburg, Northwest Healthcare has focused on expanding its cardiac surgery capabilities over the past several years. Dr. Khalpey joined Northwest Healthcare during this expansion, achieving multiple firsts in the local healthcare industry, landing among the most advanced healthcare centers in both Tucson and the state. 

Northwest Healthcare, which operates the Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital, is the only health center in the Southwest actively using Transmyocardial Laser Revascularization, also known as TMR or TMLR. This laser procedure is often used to treat inoperable heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, by creating multiple one-millimeter-wide channels in the heart muscle in order to improve blood flow. This improvement can often relieve angina, or chest pain, when no other procedure can.

“Imagine keeping your own heart, and not needing a transplant,” said Dr. Khalpey. 

Northwest was also the first hospital in Tucson to treat peripheral artery disease by providing catheter access through the wrist instead of the typical course through the femoral artery. Catheter insertions through the femoral artery have the potential to increase post-op complications and increase recovery time. Peripheral artery disease receiving wrist-access catheters are typically able to go home only a few hours after their procedure and experience less discomfort during the entire process.

According to Dr. Khalpey, these “firsts” are not only beneficial in the realm of technological advancement, but every new development serves to create additional surgical options for their patients. 

“It’s a matter of quality rather than being a factory,” he said. “We’re looking at patients individually. It’s not personalized medicine, it’s personalized surgery.”. 

Adding to the personalization, Northwest Medical Center was also the first hospital in Tucson to administer the BASILICA procedure during a trans catheter aortic valve replacement. BASILICA, or Bioprosthetic Aortic Scallop Intentional Laceration to prevent Iatrogenic Coronary Artery Obstruction, allows the doctor to open the patient’s valve flap to prevent it from blocking blood flow when a new valve is placed. The procedure, performed by Dr. Dexter DeLeon and Dr. Hoang Thai, is considered “minimally invasive,” and is able to be performed entirely through a catheter.

However, firsts aren’t the only superlatives attributes to Northwest Medical Center and Northwest Healthcare. In June, doctors at Northwest Medical Center used the world’s smallest heart pump for the first time in Arizona. The pump, which has now been used on multiple patients, reduced stress on the heart and allows it to recover during heart surgery.

Looking ahead, Northwest Healthcare and Northwest Medical Center expect to work more with advanced technology and robotics to better their patients’ outcomes in heart surgery. 

“Working where the patient comes first—and not the ego—is why I’m here,” said Dr. Khalpey.