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Houston Hospital Live-Tweets Open Heart Surgery

By Candice Leigh Helfand
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Screen grab of one of the photos Tweeted during the surgery on @houstonhospital. (Credit: Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital)

Screen grab of one of the photos Tweeted during the surgery on @houstonhospital. (Credit: Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – For the first time ever, open heart surgery was chronicled live for the entire social networking world to see.

Using its official Twitter account, @houstonhospital, Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital in Houston documented a real open heart surgery from start to finish, using 140-character blurbs and uploading photos to detail the experience publicly.

On Feb. 21, toward the end of American Hearth Month, the hospital’s Twitter feed was dominated by coverage of the event, taking time to answer questions from curious tweeters about the procedure.

“Welcome! First LIVE #Twittercast of an open #heartsurgery for the US by Memorial Hermann #hospital in #houstontx #MHopenheart,” one tweet reads, employing relevant hashtags to help draw in further interest.

According to the hospital’s collected data, the live Twitter event brought in an audience of over 4 million people, and the streaming video of the surgery has received over 38,000 views.

Dr. Michael Macris, who performed the surgery, told CBS Houston that this initiative was intended to educate the masses about both the detailed process of open heart surgery, and the steps one can take to avoid ending up on the operating table.

“It’s the number one cause of death in America, and we wanted to do something in the area of public education,” he said. “Twitter [offered us] real-time interaction with the general public.”

And in their endeavor to connect with and educate their audience, they succeeded.

“Anecdotally, we know the Twitter event reached into classrooms for health, anatomy, science and biology,” James Campbell, director of external communications and community relations for the hospital, told CBS Houston. “We were receiving questions during the event with the tweeters identifying themselves as being with a high school, or medical school, etc.”

He added that news of the event has gone viral, with coverage in countries as far as Taiwan, Greece, Brazil, Germany, India and Lithuania.

The patient, who reportedly participated voluntarily, was described as a 57-year-old man with a blockage of the coronary artery. For his protection, his name or other identifying characteristics were not divulged.

From the moment he entered the operating room, to the moment the last closing stitch was sewn, the Twitter account was alive with activity detailing how the procedure works, and the parts of the heart it affects.

“Part of what we’re hoping to do is to demystify heart surgery – it’s very commonly performed,” Macris said. “But in addition to teaching people what happens in heart surgery, we wanted to make an impact in trying to avoid it, if at all possible.”

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