In 2022, the cardiothoracic surgical community turned to The Annals of Thoracic Surgery for insights on best practices for patient care, quality metrics from the STS National Database™, a glimpse at the future of surgical techniques, and much more. 

Among the top articles in 2022—in both usage and citations—were the STS/AATS Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Management of Type B Aortic Dissection, as well as an article elucidating why STS and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery did not endorse the 2021 ACC/AHA/SCAI coronary revascularization guidelines. The latter, as explored in the cover story of this issue of STS News, informed new analyses that account for the increased risks in patients with multivessel coronary artery disease, and that support coronary artery bypass grafting as the best first approach in these patients. 

The second most-viewed and most-cited article was “Current and Future Applications of Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality in Cardiothoracic Surgery,” a topic that reinforces the STS community’s interest in adopting promising new techniques and technologies to further enhance their skills. 

Table of top 10 Annals articles by citation

COVID-19 is still very much a relevant topic, as surgeons continue to discover the toll COVID infections—and delays in care exacerbated by lockdown—have taken on their patients in the long term. “Pulmonary Parenchymal Changes in COVID-19 Survivors,” “The Effect of COVID-19 on Adult Cardiac Surgery in the United States in 717,103 Patients,” and “One-Year Outcomes with Veno-venous Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Support” appeared among The Annals’ 10 most popular articles in usage, citations, and overall views.  

STS National Database-driven research graced the top 10 in citations. “Concordance of Treatment Effect,” “Sex Differences in Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting Techniques,” and the unveiling of the new Failure to Rescue quality metric provided guidance for evidence-based quality improvement.  

Novel, condition-specific applications and their implications for surgeons appeared among highly-read topics, including the surgical perspective on neoadjuvant immunotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer, rescue blanket as a provisional seal for penetrating chest wounds, lymphatic disorders and their management in patients with congenital heart disease, and topical vancomycin for reducing the incidence of deep sternal wound complications after sternotomy. 

2022 top 10 Annals articles by usage

STS Members have complimentary access to the journal. Read the latest at


Apr 12, 2023
2 min read

For patients with multivessel coronary artery disease, contemporary data analyses demonstrate that the optimal treatment is coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), and that new downgraded recommendations for CABG could put patients at risk. 

During the STS 59th Annual Meeting in January, researchers presented compelling findings, comparing outcomes for patients who underwent CABG versus those who opted for percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).   

“The findings of our study were very convincing,” said J. Hunter Mehaffey, MD, MSc, from the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at West Virginia University. His team’s presentation, “Contemporary Artery Bypass Grafting versus Multivessel Percutaneous Coronary Intervention in 100,000 Matched Medicare Beneficiaries,” revealed that patients with blockages in multiple arteries who opt for CABG—rather than for PCI—are less likely to die from their condition, less likely to need additional surgery, and less likely to have a subsequent heart attack. 

“The singular message to the public is that the optimal treatment for multivessel coronary artery disease—to improve not only long-term survival but also lower your risk of complications—is coronary artery bypass surgery.”

- J. Hunter Mehaffey, MD 

The background and rationale for this research project started with the publication of the 2021 ACC/AHA/SCAI Guideline for Coronary Artery Revascularization. “The cardiac surgery world was really shocked, because the guidelines downgraded the indications for CABG from a class 1 recommendation to a class 2B,” Dr. Mehaffey explained.  

Much of the decision to downgrade was based on the guideline committee’s goals to focus on the most recent data, to help ensure that they were capturing contemporary stent technology, Dr. Mehaffey explained. The guidelines therefore relied heavily on the multicenter ISCHEMIA trial, published by Maron et al in 2020. 

“ISCHEMIA wasn’t a study that was designed to look at CABG versus medical therapy in terms of survival,” said Joseph F. Sabik III, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery at UH Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio. “It was really a study that was done to look at initial conservative strategy versus an initial invasive strategy.”  

Dr. Mehaffey’s multidisciplinary team—including both surgeons and cardiologists—performed a statistical analysis of Medicare outcomes data in patients 65 and older from 2018 to 2020, including propensity score balancing to help ensure that the groups of patients who underwent stenting versus those who underwent bypass surgery were well matched in order to compare their outcomes. 

The analysis demonstrated a significantly lower hospital mortality for the patients who underwent CABG compared to those who underwent PCI. Additionally, the researchers found a marked reduction in both 30-day and 3-year readmissions for myocardial infarction. CABG patients were also significantly less likely to need any additional stenting or intervention on their coronary arteries during those 3 years, and—most significantly—those who underwent CABG had a nearly 60% reduction in death at 3 years compared to those who had PCI. 

“The singular message to the public is that the optimal treatment for multivessel coronary artery disease—to improve not only long-term survival but also lower your risk of complications—is coronary artery bypass surgery,” Dr. Mehaffey said.  

Meanwhile, Dr. Sabik’s team analyzed the past 2 years’ outcomes in the STS National Database™, which captures nearly every adult cardiac surgical procedure in the United States. “We wanted to examine how representative ISCHEMIA is for patients undergoing surgery, to see if the results are applicable,” Dr. Sabik said. 

They discovered that, based on the eligibility criteria for the ISCHEMIA trial, only about one-third of patients who underwent CABG would have been included in the study. A third would have been excluded because they had left main disease, and the other third would have met other exclusion criteria. 

“ISCHEMIA wasn’t a study that was designed to look at CABG versus medical therapy in terms of survival. It was really a study that was done to look at initial conservative strategy versus an initial invasive strategy.”  

- Joseph F. Sabik III, MD

Compared with that of the STS population, it turned out that patients who met ISCHEMIA criteria tended to have less severe disease. They didn’t have the same extent of coronary artery blockage or comorbid conditions. They tended to be younger, and they were less likely to have hypertension, diabetes, a previous stroke, peripheral vascular disease, or renal dysfunction, Dr. Sabik said. ISCHEMIA participants also were less likely to have had a myocardial infarction and more likely to have better left ventricular function. 

“Though the authors of ISCHEMIA did their best to represent patients undergoing revascularization, the study wasn’t truly representative of patients with triple-vessel disease having surgery today,” concluded Dr. Sabik. “That’s why we don’t think it should have been used to downgrade coronary surgery recommendations. People are making decisions based on these guidelines, and it may not be in the best interest of patients.” 

“This is not about surgery. It’s not about PCI, it’s not about medical therapy. It’s about making sure that patients get the right treatment, so they can have the best long-term outcomes.” 

- Joseph F. Sabik III, MD

During the 2023 C. Walton Lillehei Lecture, Peter K. Smith, MD, outlined a series of narratives that can cloud a provider’s decision-making when choosing their approach to coronary artery disease. He illuminated the nuances of commonly cited trials such as SYNTAX and FAME, detailed the evolution of common percutaneous approaches, and explained how belief in the advantages of PCI becomes murkier when the arguments aren’t equivalent. 

"There was exhaustive discussion of the age of the ‘CABG versus medical therapy’ evidence,” Dr. Smith said. “And then we entered the spin zone of indirect comparisons of ‘CABG versus medical therapy, CABG versus Stent X, Stent X versus Stent Y, Stent Y versus medical therapy—therefore CABG versus medical therapy.’ And, of course, ‘Those were all old stents and medical therapy is markedly improved now.’ This is what occurs when a core belief system is at risk.” 

“We need to work at a local level with cardiology, with heart teams, in order to make the right decisions for patients,” urged Dr. Smith. 

“This is not about surgery,” added Dr. Sabik. “It’s not about PCI, it’s not about medical therapy. It’s about making sure that patients get the right treatment, so they can have the best long-term outcomes.” 

STS 2023 registrants can watch Dr. Mehaffey’s presentation, Dr. Smith’s Lillehei Lecture, and Dr. Sabik’s late-breaking session, “The ISCHEMIA Trial Does Not Reflect Patients Undergoing Coronary Surgery: An STS Cardiac Surgery Database Analysis,” as part of their free Annual Meeting Online access. Those who didn’t register can purchase Annual Meeting Online—with special discounts for STS Members—and Resident/Fellow Members can access it for free. Visit  

Apr 12, 2023
5 min read
Career Development Blog
In your early years as a cardiothoracic surgeon, you may encounter another challenging situation: not assessing whether the patient needs an operation, but rather, should you be the one doing the case.
4 min read
Amy G. Fiedler, MD & Joseph D. Phillips, MD

Chicago, Illinois – The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) has developed and launched a new risk calculator to estimate the risk of mitral valve repair for patients with mitral valve prolapse and degenerative primary mitral regurgitation, or primary MR.

Feb 10, 2023

Data analyses demonstrate that new downgraded recommendations for coronary artery bypass grafting—largely based on the ISCHEMIA trial—may result in undertreatment and complications for patients with multiple blockages

Jan 23, 2023
STS 2023, SAN DIEGO — The best practices for tricuspid valve surgery gained definition Sunday at STS 2023 as experts took the first steps to end the tricuspid’s undeserved reputation as the “forgotten valve.” Qiudong (Kevin) Chen, MD, MS, research resident at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles, California, presented the Richard E. Clark Memorial Paper, which demonstrated that: ·       For non-endocarditis-related tricuspid regurgitation (TR), isolated tricuspid valve repair is associated with a lower risk of operative mortality (in-hospital or 30-days post-operative) than valve replacement. ·       In the same population, beating heart surgery (repair or replacement) is associated with a lower risk of pacemaker implant, renal failure, and post-operative blood transfusions than surgery under cardioplegic arrest. However, no mortality benefit was identified. ·       Higher pre-operative Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) scores were associated with higher operative mortality, especially for patients with MELD scores 20 or above. Increased levels of tricuspid valve regurgitation are associated with worse survival rates, and operative mortality can be up to 11% in patients undergoing isolated surgery. Both these factors contributed to the need for this analysis on a larger population level in order to start uncovering optimal surgical strategies. Senior authors for this study were Dr. Michael Bowdish and Dr. Joanna Chikwe. Dr. Chen and his surgeon colleagues conducted their review using the STS National Database™, which he called a “powerful, comprehensive tool” that allowed his team to review procedural trends and volumes from 2012 to 2019 across the US. He noted several limitations in the analysis, including lack of long-term outcomes and incomplete etiology. From the Adult Cardiac Surgery Database, physician-scientists initially identified 14,704 patients who underwent isolated tricuspid valve surgery and further narrowed this to 6,507 patients with non-endocarditis-related tricuspid regurgitation, who were assessed in the study. Although tricuspid regurgitation is common, the study confirmed that this disorder is extremely undertreated. Tricuspid repair and replacement remain rare surgeries nationwide: the investigators found that 93% of US medical centers performed five or fewer of these procedures annually. A majority of procedures were conducted with patients under cardiac arrest, followed by surgeries on patients with beating hearts and a small minority performed on patients with fibrillating hearts. “I believe these findings suggest that in this patient population, tricuspid repair may be a safer option when feasible,” Dr. Chen said. He was joined by senior co-authors Michael E. Bowdish, MD, MS, Jad Malas, MD, and Amy Roach, MD, all also from Cedars-Sinai, in this study. “Surgical outcomes for isolated TR are poor, and we can do better by generating additional clinical evidence by identifying those patients with TR and operating on them early,” added James Gammie, MD, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who served as discussant. Putting tricuspid regurgitation in perspective, Dr. Gammie noted that about 1.6 million people in the US have significant TR, making the disease almost as prevalent as aortic stenosis.
Jan 22, 2023
3 min read
This scientific presentation covered in this article was part of the STS 2023 session “Perspectives from Asia: Aortic Disease, Coronary Disease, and Mechanical Circulatory Support,” and is available in Annual Meeting Online. Access or purchase it here. For Asian patients with aortic disease, determining whether to take a surgical or conservative approach to treatment may depend on much more than size. “Given my particular interest in aortic surgery and participation in the recently released American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines, I was asked to try to answer this question,” said Edward P. Chen, MD, from Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. “As I dug deeper, I found that the answer is considerably more complicated than a simple yes or no.” In terms of comparative studies, data that can help to quantify aortic disease risk can vary significantly in populations identified as “Asian,” Dr. Chen said. Even as body habitus fluctuates from region to region, the risk of adverse events may be based not only on the diameter of the aorta, but also aortic diameter indexed to both body surface area and height. “As it turns out, despite what I heard occasionally when I was growing up,  Asians do not all look the same.” Environmental and cultural factors throw another wrench: A patient who is a Japanese national, for example, might have a markedly different lifestyle than an ethnically Japanese patient living in the West. “When I was a medical student, for instance, I learned there was a high incidence of gastric cancer in Japan," Dr. Chen said. "But Japanese people living in the US have more colorectal cancer, which could potentially be explained by differences in both diet and environmental conditions.” The incidence of comorbid conditions—as well as access to health care—ranges widely in patient cohorts across the globe. When Dr. Chen began researching his presentation, he reached out to Dr. Kay-Hyun Park of Seoul, Korea, president of the Asian Society for Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, for an additional perspective. Dr. Park’s blunt reply: “I (and probably any Asian surgeon) cannot represent the entire ‘Asia’ and deliver the ‘Asian perspective,’ because I have no means to grasp what they are doing in the other Asian countries.” Dr. Park added, “Even in my own neighborhood in Korea, their aggressiveness is quite varied.” He went on to say that, in areas where patients might have more limited access to state-of-the-art surgical care, a surgeon might err more aggressively on the side of surgery—not knowing when they might get to see that patient again. Acknowledging the limitations and complexity at work, Dr. Chen and his coauthors aimed to design the latest guidelines to assist the clinician in making the best decisions for each patient on a case-by-case basis. The presentation was part of a session hosted jointly by STS and the Asian Society for Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, “Perspectives from Asia: Aortic Disease, Coronary Disease, and Mechanical Circulatory Support,” moderated by S. Christopher Malaisrie, MD, and Wilson Y. Szeto, MD.   “Shared decision making is going to be the key here,” Dr. Chen said. “Yes, we don't actually have all the answers. But what we should do is take the data we have and try to individualize it to every patient we take care of, and not have a uniform umbrella policy. Particularly here in the United States, with the potpourri of diverse ethnic groups we take care of, it’s important to use the guidelines along with the data we have, the patient’s known measurable anatomic factors as well as lifestyle considerations, and one’s own experience and clinical judgment to make the best decision possible for the patient.”
Jan 22, 2023
3 min read
STS 2023 DAY 3 — Today is your chance to give input as cardiothoracic surgeons work to establish vital guidelines in pediatric surgery for congenital heart defects. Several of the nation's foremost surgeons will present their studies to date that will be the foundation for STS practice guidelines and consensus documents.  On Monday, January 23 at 11:55 a.m. PT, Jeffrey P. Jacobs, MD, a professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and Tara Karamlou, MD, MSc, from Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, will chair the highly collaborative session "It's All About the Data—Evidence Based Guidelines for Congenital Heart Surgery." These and other surgeons involved in the multi-institutional research want your feedback. This session will showcase the extensive research conducted to date by the Evidence Based Task Force for Congenital Heart Surgery and offer participants opportunities to contribute their own insights. Dr. Jacobs leads the task force, which is undertaking three projects where consensus on optimal care approaches does not exist: Strategies for Left Ventricular Recruitment in Neonates and Borderline in Left Heart Structures, chaired by Dr. Karamlou, Bahaaldin Alsoufi, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Norton’s Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and Eric Feins, MD, from Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. Management of Neonates and Infants with Coarctation, chaired by Elizabeth Stephens, MD, PhD from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Hani Najm, MD, from Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Indications and Timing of Pulmonary Valve Replacement in Repaired Tetralogy of Fallot, chaired by Jennifer Nelson, MD, from Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Florida, and James St. Louis, MD, Section Chief of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery from Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta. "It has truly been an honor for me to observe the dedication and professionalism of these STS leaders as they pursued, with great scientific rigor, the best answers available to three very challenging clinical dilemmas," Dr. Jacobs says. "I am certain that the tremendous effort devoted to these studies will generate important knowledge that will ultimately improve the lives of many babies and children with congenital heart disease." These initiatives followed the call in 2022 by STS President John Calhoon, MD, to improve cardiothoracic surgery across the world. From there, the STS Workforce on Evidence Based Surgery created three Task Forces addressing some of the most pressing and unanswered surgical issues, including the congenital heart surgery group.    Research presented today will lead to publication of an STS Clinical Practice Guideline in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery and two STS Expert Consensus documents later this year.
Jan 22, 2023
3 min read
STS 2023, SAN DIEGO—Frailty in patients has existed as a nebulous marker of a patient’s physiological ability to tolerate surgery, but a simple visual assessment at the bedside is not reliable. Surgeons at STS 2023 urged others to go beyond the “eyeball” test. This issue is taking on increased importance as our large, Baby Boomer population and older patients reach a point when they may have severe disease and need cardiothoracic surgery. Physicians have long believed that a measurement of frailty is useful, but agreement remains elusive on how to best measure it. Armir Kiankhooy, MD, from Adventist Health in St. Helena, California, added that physicians’ implicit biases about age, obesity, and other characteristics may creep into and skew quick visual assessments, when in fact the assessment may be inaccurate. For instance, a higher level of frailty has been found in young adults than previously suspected, and frailty permeates all age groups.  Indicators of frailty can include malnutrition, cognitive and speech impairment, ambulatory ability, sarcopenia, and others. “If you are not doing some kind of assessment for your patients in frailty or other vulnerabilities, you are probably only seeing half the risk in your patients,” said Rakesh Arora, MD, from University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. “We need a more comprehensive plan. We need to know how quickly they will bounce back from the stress of surgery.” Tools to assess frailty are increasing, and Dr. Arora recommended the Clinical Frailty Scale, a comprehensive assessment of 70 variables, but acknowledged that it may be too time- consuming for institutions with more limited resources. Instead, he advised that clinicians assess the frailty factors that are more manageable. These can include gait speed, chair rises, balance tests, and grip strength assessment for physical abilities, and potentially a Mini-COG test for memory loss and other indicators of cognition. “If you do the chair rise test, some basic cognitive assessment, a baseline hemoglobin, and a baseline serum, that probably is just as good as a more comprehensive test,” Dr. Arora said. All is not lost for patients with suboptimal frailty scores to undergo surgery. “Pre-habilitation” can help them improve their health through targeted exercise, nutrition and assistance with psychosocial issues and better prepare them for the OR.
Jan 21, 2023
2 min read
STS 2023, SAN DIEGO – “Quality people, consistency, communication, and collaboration” were declared the winning combination in the debate “For the Post-operative Patient in the ICU, Who Is in Charge and Who Is the Consultant? Surgeon or Intensivist?” on Day 1 of STS 2023. Over the last two decades, changing reimbursements, time demands on surgeons, and hiring practices have pushed surgeons and intensivists together for post-surgical care of patients—not always with the best results. Today, with a host of different circumstances at different institutions, significant variations in post-operative critical care exist across the country. Moderator Joseph Zwischenberger, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at University of Kentucky HealthCare in Lexington, stood ready to blow his harmonica in case tempers flared. While there were distinct differences of opinion, Andrea J. Carpenter, MD, PhD, a cardiothoracic surgeon and Assistant Dean for Health System Science at University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSC) and Martin Zammert, MD, a surgical critical care physician who heads the cardiothoracic unit at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, also highlighted the vital need for true surgeon-intensivist partnership. “The surgeon knows the patient’s anatomy, physiology, and social issues best,” Dr. Carpenter said. “It is the surgeon who takes responsibility and criticism for poor outcomes. So in those cases where there is not clear agreement on what the next best step is, the ultimate decision needs to be made by the surgeon.” A clear answer to the question posed did not emerge from the research both experts presented on length of stay, in-hospital mortality, and readmission rates. They turned to their real-life experiences to make their cases about the best direction and who should have ultimate authority in the ICU—where patient status can change rapidly and quick decisions need to be made about everything from mechanical ventilator support to choice of statins and vasopressors to care withdrawal. Dr. Zammert had another perspective. “Bad outcomes in the ICU are mainly non-surgical, so I don’t think the question should be ‘Who is in charge?’ I think the question we should ask ourselves is, what kind of intensivists do we want in our units?” Both agreed that cardiac critical care is distinct from other intensive care, and that intensivists need training in identifying and avoiding the postoperative complications that commonly occur following cardiac surgery. Intensivists need specific proficiencies in cardiac intensive care, and surgeons need to understand ICU post-operative care in order to foster mutual trust and respect. Dr. Zammert added that understanding how each type of specialist thinks and reasons, and keeping each other informed, create a foundation for a good relationship. “We are here to be a partner with you, not an opponent,” Dr. Zammert added. “This should never be an arranged marriage.” Along with audience members, both discussants advocated for structured rotations and experiential cross-learning for both specialties in the ICU and the OR. Dr. Carpenter, who is also Residency Program Director of Integrated Thoracic Surgery at UTHSC’s Long School of Medicine, noted that in this effort nationwide, “some programs are doing it better than others.”
Jan 21, 2023
3 min read