#FlashbackFriday – Is it the ‘90s again?


The ‘90s called…. They’re back!

Have you been playing Pokémon Go? Are you getting ready for your first sip of Crystal Pepsi? Are you sporting a choker while listening to a little chart-topping music by Blink 182 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Could another Clinton be heading to the White House? We may be two decades later, but it feels like we’re in the DeLorean heading Back to the Future again.

While fashion, music, gaming and other nostalgic novelties are making a comeback, the ‘90s also ushered in some historic advancements in medicine and health care. Here we take a look at some of biggest medical breakthroughs of that decade, and then compare to how far we’ve come since.

1. Heart Failure

Ventricular Assist Devices, or VADs, were first introduced in the ‘90s but they have come a long way in the past 20 years. These small mechanical pumps help support the heart and push blood throughout the body, allowing heart attack patients to survive and thrive in the short- and long-term, ultimately leading to fewer fatalities from heart failure. Since the introduction of VADs, the devices have become much easier and less invasive to implant, and they have paved the way for a rollout of other devices used to treat heart failure, including the Impella, which has improved care for patients in cardiogenic shock.

Dramatic progress in heart attack treatment over the past two decades has led to more sophisticated and innovative care for patients suffering from heart failure. “Devices used to treat heart failure continue to evolve rapidly,” said Dr. David Portugal, interventional cardiologist at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Cardiology Southwest. “In addition, we have seen incredible improvements in our catherization labs, which allow us to mobilize teams in different areas very quickly. When treating heart attacks, speed is key. Memorial Hermann’s ability to treat a patient within 90 minutes of first contact with an ambulance is truly remarkable.”

Human brain, computer illustration,

2. Stroke Treatment

The introduction of tPA in the ‘90s was a monumental breakthrough for treating strokes. In fact, Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center was the first in Houston and one of the first in the United States to test tPA for acute stroke, which is now a widely used clot-dissolving drug.

In the years since, Memorial Hermann has remained at the forefront of combatting strokes using the most sophisticated treatments available. It was the first stroke program in Texas to achieve Comprehensive Stroke Center status, and two years ago, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center  (TMC) teamed up with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth to launch the nation’s first Mobile Stroke Unit, a specially equipped ambulance with a CT scanner capable of delivering stroke treatment before the patient reaches the hospital doors, including the administration of tPA.

“We know now that the earlier we can open the artery with tPA or endovascular therapy, the better the outcome for stroke victims,” said Dr. James Grotta, Director of Stroke Research at the Clinical Institute for Research & Innovation at Memorial Hermann-TMC and director of the Mobile Stroke Unit consortium. “Also, the advent of telemedicine has helped us to provide tPA treatment in areas like Beaumont and Victoria that could previously not administer the treatment, a huge benefit for patients who live in those areas.”

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3. Trauma Care

Memorial Hermann-TMC was first verified as a Level I trauma center in 1994 and, over the years, has evolved into the home of the nation’s busiest trauma center, recently renamed the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute.

In the years since it first reached the Level I milestone, Memorial Hermann-TMC has continued to make strides in revolutionizing trauma care under the direction of the late Dr. James “Red” Duke, a world-renowned trauma surgeon whose visionary leadership helped establish Memorial Hermann Life Flight® and the hospital’s expansive trauma care program.

Today, Memorial Hermann is bringing lifesaving care to trauma patients before they even reach hospital doors.  “When you think of the evolution of trauma care in Houston, you can summarize it in two words: Red Duke,” said Dr. Michelle McNutt, interim chief of trauma at the Red Duke Trauma Institute and McGovern Medical School. “Since he launched the trauma care revolution in Houston four decades ago, we have seen huge improvements, from the establishment of well-organized, pre-hospital transport, which is key to giving patients their best chance at survival, to a major change in the resuscitation of trauma patients using blood products instead of saline or other solutions.”

In addition, this year two hospitals – Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital – announced that they have embarked on a journey toward becoming verified as Level II trauma centers. “In response to the growing volume of trauma patients and the swelling population of Houston, Memorial Hermann has stepped up to meet the challenge and expand access to high-level trauma care,” Dr. McNutt said. “If you find yourself the unfortunate victim of an accident, you’re going to be very happy that you live in Houston.”

4. Fetal Spina Bifida Surgery

Two decades ago, spina bifida was only treated after a baby was born with the birth defect that leaves the spinal cord exposed. But in recent years, researchers have figured out ways to treat the disorder while the baby is still in the womb, which helps reduce some of the most serious complications of spina bifida.

Fast forward to 2011 when physicians at The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School performed an in utero spina bifida surgery in a groundbreaking case that marked the first of its kind in Texas.

But the innovation didn’t stop there. Just this month, the team published the research results of a pioneering pilot project in which surgeons used donated umbilical cord material to patch large spina bifida defects in utero, marking the latest leap in the rapidly changing arena of fetal surgery. “The use of this patch for fetal repair heralds a new era for fetal spina bifida repair,” said Dr. Kenneth Moise, co-director of The Fetal Center and co-author of the study and professor at McGovern Medical School. “For the first time, a bioscaffold has been successfully employed to allow the fetus to heal itself. The implications for the future of a minimally invasive approach to fetal spina bifida repair, and even neonatal spina bifida repair, are enormous.”


5. Robotic Surgery

The ‘90s heralded a sci-fi transformation into the way surgeries are performed. Instead of standing over a patient’s bedside and working meticulously for hours to navigate around arteries and vital organs, physicians began experimenting with surgical robots to aid in complicated or physically demanding procedures.

Within a decade, Memorial Hermann had established the Surgical Innovation and Robotics Institute, which, at the time, was the largest robotic training center in the nation and the only one serving the Gulf Coast. By 2004, the Institute was training more surgeons in robotic-assisted surgery than any other medical facility in the nation. Today, robotic surgery remains a critical tool for surgeons across all Memorial Hermann facilities and specialties.

“There’s no question that robotic surgery offers some real advantages for surgeons,” said Dr. Erik Wilson, Medical Director of Bariatric Surgery at Memorial Hermann-TMC and McGovern Medical School and the Director of the Minimally Invasive Surgeons of Texas. Dr. Wilson also led the charge in establishing the first bariatric and advanced gastrointestinal surgery robotics fellowship in the U.S. “By allowing surgeons to have a better view into the operative field, they are able to visualize the surgery better and perform a more precise procedure, which leads to better outcomes overall for patients.”

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Tashika Varma