When open-heart surgery wasn’t an option, this Florida hospital’s surgeon found another way

HCA Florida. Dr. Saurabh Sanon and cardiology team at HCA West Florida stand posed in operating room

Esther Whitley had been feeling tired and out of breath for months before she visited her doctor. The cause was a mitral valve leak, meaning blood was flowing in the wrong direction. There was also another, more serious complication: A tumor was present on her heart, which would usually require open-heart surgery to remove. That procedure would carry risk for any patient, but at age 86, it was an impossibility for Whitley. There simply wasn’t a way to treat her safely – until there was.

Whitley was referred to Saurabh Sanon, M.D., a cardiologist and Regional Medical Director of Structural Heart Therapies at HCA West Florida. He recommended the SEATTLE procedure, which stands for The Simplified Extraction of Atrial Tumor with Targeted Loop Electricity. A special catheter was inserted into a vein in Whitley’s leg and snaked to her heart. In the three-hour surgery that took place in January of 2024, Sanon hooked one of the catheter’s loops to the tumor and then used an electrical current to cut it from the cardiac wall and cauterize the tissue behind it. Then the tumor was guided by a second loop into a “basket” on the catheter and removed. It was the first time the procedure had been performed in Florida. Whitley’s mitral valve was repaired in a subsequent procedure.

Whitley now celebrates small successes, such as being able to go to church and the grocery store without being out of breath. And she’s proud to be a part of this innovative procedure – but not just for her case.

“It is not about me,” she told Tampa’s Spectrum Bay News. “I am glad that I can tell people about it. I wish some of my relatives had had the opportunity.”