Seated, left to right, Eddie Farris, Bill Toole; standing, left to right, Dr. Buddy Griffin, Dr. Davis Dear, Dr. Tom Kilgore, Dr. Mart McMullan, and  Dr. William Harris.
Seated, left to right, Eddie Farris, Bill Toole; standing, left to right, Dr. Buddy Griffin, Dr. Davis Dear, Dr. Tom Kilgore, Dr. Mart McMullan, and Dr. William Harris.
Several Madison County physicians were among the first to perform open heart surgery at a private hospital in Mississippi 43 years ago and they got together with that patient last week.

Dr. Tom Kilgore at Baptist was the first cardiovascular surgeon to successfully perform open heart surgery at a private hospital in Mississippi.

By his side was fellow Ridgeland resident Dr. Davis Dear along with Madison resident Dr. Buddy Griffin.

Meanwhile, Dr. William Harris of Madison recently completed the state's first endoscopic robotic mitral valve repair surgery using a da Vinci robot in June at Baptist.

All of that was celebrated with a ceremony at Baptist last Thursday.

Dr. Kilgore and the others were reunited with their patient, Eddie Farris of Texas, for the milestone celebration, while Harris' patient was unable to attended because he was on fishing trip below New Orleans.

Farris was 17 when he underwent open heart surgery.

"I found out at an early age that I had a heart problem, but I didn't really understand the implications or commitments of it," said Farris.

"As I got older, it became apparent that something was going to have to be done about it. At 17, during my senior year of high school, we were fortunate enough to find Dr. Dear and Dr. Kilgore at Baptist Hospital."

Kilgore explained, noting that Baptist was the first local hospital to show interest in revolutionary heart health procedures.

"From 1967 up through 1970, I was doing general vascular work for all the hospitals in town, and there was absolutely no interest in cardiac surgery by any hospital at that time,"

He added, "I was very pleased to be a part of it."

Though he will always have a scar, doctors no longer detect anything out of the ordinary when listening to Farris's heartbeat. Farris says that 43 years ago is when his doctor-patient relationship began with Kilgore and it's lasted through the years.

At the event, Baptist CEO Chris Anderson recognized the three doctors for their efforts in the founding of cardiovascular surgery at Baptist.

Through the leadership of our cardiovascular surgery team, Baptist remains on the leading edge of surgical technology and treatments for our patients and for our community," said Anderson.

"All three of these gentlemen pioneered treatments here at Baptist that have since become the gold standard for peers."

Dear founded Baptist's first Cath Lab in June of 1969, Kilgore performed the first open heart surgery in 1971, and Griffin played a key role as member of the very first surgical clinic. Each medical doctor received an "Open Hands" sculpture to represent their years of service.

Bill Toole, recipient of the Jackson area's first aortic heart valve replacement with the breakthrough Edwards Sapien valve, was also among those in the audience.

Two weeks after his surgery in 2012, Toole said, "I've had no real pain. My daughter lives behind me on a hilly road, and I walked to her house for the first time in a long time."

Speaking of Dr. Harris, Dr. Kilgore said, "I think that success builds," said Kilgore, who now leads Baptist Outpatient Cardiac Rehab Services. "The more we do, the better we get, and the more milestones we can achieve."

According to Kilgore, this type of improvement allowed the Baptist team to complete 128 cardio bypass surgeries without a single mortality and with a cost to the patients of only $4,000 less than a year after the surgery with Farris.

Dr. Harris said the fact his patient was on a fishing trip is testimony to the success of the procedure that previously without the robot would have laid the man up for weeks.

"Instead of opening the breast bone, we made four small pencil-sized holes in the right side, and went in right between the ribs," Harris said. "We used a camera to get visualization, and slipped the robotic arms through the holes. All of this was connected to a console, at which I sat and performed the surgery by controlling instruments while looking through the view-finder."

The surgery was non-invasive, meaning he didn't have to crack a bone or split a muscle. And just three weeks after having surgery to repair the heart valve, Harris' patient had to send his regrets that he could not attend the celebration because he was on a deep-sea fishing trip off the coast of Louisiana.

"Now that's what you want to hear when you're a doctor," Harris said. "When your patient is back to the business of living, it's always rewarding."