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St. Mary's heart docs

L to R Cardiac Critical Care Intensivist: Andrew Christopher, MD; Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons: Nestor Dans, MD; Nepal Chowdhury, MD; Richard Heuer, MD

Highly specialized cardiovascular services are greatly needed in our community as heart disease is the No. 1 killer among adults. For more than 40 years, St. Mary’s Medical Center has been a nationally recognized leader in cardiac care.

In 2019, St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute was named a Center of Excellence by Mountain Health Network. Centers of Excellence are recognized by the medical community, the public and accrediting bodies as providing the most expert and highest level of compassionate and innovative care.

St. Mary’s Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons have a three-star rating, the highest possible, from the Society of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons. St. Mary’s surgery team is led by Nepal Chowdhury, MD, Richard Heuer, MD, and Nestor Dans, MD, who, together, have nearly 70 years of cardiovascular and thoracic surgical experience.

“When you’re able to help someone who is near death and you can turn their life around, it’s just extremely rewarding,” Dans said. “I think that’s the best part of what I do. And you can see the impact that it has not just on the patient, but also on their family members.”

For all three surgeons, minimally invasive techniques, which use smaller incisions, have completely changed how they perform not only heart surgery, but also lung and vascular surgery.

“Minimally invasive techniques are a big progression in cardiothoracic surgery because they use a small, dime-sized or quarter-sized incision,” Chowdhury said. “Since we are not doing a big incision, pain is less, recovery time is quicker and the patient goes home earlier with minimal complications and great satisfaction.”

“We can get everything done like we did 20 years ago without those big incisions,” Heuer said. “So if you need an aortic valve or a mitral valve repaired or replaced, it’s a small incision most of the time. When it comes to lung surgery, 95 percent of our cases are now done with small incisions and, with vascular surgeries, sometimes we don’t even make an incision. It’s all done with a needle hole in the groin and a little band-aid and you get to go home the same day. They’re amazing breakthroughs in medicine and we do them here every day.”

“It used to be that all these patients would be referred to another hospital in a bigger city,” Chowdhury said. “Now, we are offering these minimally invasive and robotic surgeries at St. Mary’s so patients don’t have to travel to get those kinds of services.”

Over the past four decades, St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute has received numerous acknowledgments for its commitment to heart care. St. Mary’s is an accredited chest pain center through the American College of Cardiology and one of only 203 hospitals nationwide to receive the American College of Cardiology’s NCDR ACTION Registry Platinum Performance Achievement Award. St. Mary’s was also recognized by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia with the prestigious Blue Distinction® Centers+ for Cardiac Care designation and U.S. News and World Report named St. Mary’s a Best Regional Hospital with a designation of excellence in the treatment of heart failure. The heart failure program has also received recognition from The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association with the Get With the Guidelines®-Heart Failure Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.

“We have a wonderful team of surgeons, nurses, advanced practitioners, and everyone that helps take care of these patients from the ICU nurses to the floor nurses and even the housekeeping team,” Dans said. “Everybody here really cares for the patients. They really put the patient ahead of themselves and I think it’s a wonderful environment to work in.”

“We have men and women who come in with terrible heart diseases. They can’t breathe or they have chest pain,” Heuer said. “They also come in with wounds on their legs and they’re going to get amputations. We take them to the operating room and we do a surgery that fixes those arteries and we save the legs. They’re walking again. We save their lives so they can see their loved ones again and see their grandchildren grow up. It’s very rewarding. It’s just about every day something great happens here that we’re very proud of.”

For more information about St. Mary’s Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons and St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute, visit

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