McHenry, Ill,
12:01 PM

Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital Expands its Cardiovascular Services and Receives Distinguished Rating from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons for Isolated CABG Surgery


Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital recognized as #9 ranked hospital in Illinois, according to U.S. News and World Report, as it continues to expand specialized procedures for local patients

James Smith Photo

The Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at McHenry Hospital recently received a Three Star Rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) for coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) procedures. The Three Star Rating, which denotes the highest category of quality, places Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital among the elite for heart bypass surgery in the United States and Canada.

CABG is a procedure used to treat coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the narrowing of the coronary arteries – the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. CAD is caused by a build-up of fatty material within the walls of the arteries. This build-up narrows the inside of the arteries, limiting the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.

A procedure to treat the blocked or narrowed arteries bypasses the blocked portion of the coronary artery with a piece of a healthy blood vessel from elsewhere in the body. Blood vessels, or grafts, used for the bypass procedure, may be pieces of a vein from the leg or an artery in the chest. An artery from the forearm may also be used. The physician attaches one end of the graft above the blockage and the other end below the blockage. Blood bypasses the blockage by going through the new graft to reach the heart muscle.

“It’s an honor to receive this recognition from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons,” said Aqeel Sandhu, MD, director of cardiac surgery at Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute McHenry Hospital. “We are very proud of the cardiac surgery program at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, where we provide world class care to patients in the community. We continue to offer new and innovative treatment options to patients, where a few years ago, they would have had to travel to our academic medical center in Chicago.”

James Smith, 57, of Oakwood Hills, Ill., was a recent, direct recipient of this care. Smith, an avid hiker and mountain biker, started to feel a sensation in his chest. He first just thought it was a chest cold or something left over from COVID, which he had a few years back, but didn’t think much of it.

Several months after he had occasionally felt the chest sensation, Smith had his annual physical exam with Nathan Kakish, MD, internal medicine at Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Regional Medical Group. His general physical checked out fine, but when they were wrapping up, Smith mentioned that he had felt a mild but almost burning sensation in his chest—mostly after working out. Dr. Kakish responded immediately, stating he needs to stay so that he can take a closer look. Despite Smith not having any more common cardiac symptoms, he was immediately sent for a chest x-ray and an EKG, and both came back with normal results. He was also instructed to get a stress test the following day at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital. Vincent Woo, MD, interventional cardiology at Northwestern Medicine, conducted an angiogram, a procedure for diagnosing severe heart artery blockages.

Two days later, Smith was put in an ambulance from Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital as he required a three graft CABG. Dr. Sandhu conducted the surgery, and the next thing Smith remembers is waking up and being told he had triple bypass surgery, and that he is in recovery and doing well. 

“Had Dr. Kakish not taken the extra step from my very casual comment, I would have likely had a very different outcome,” said Smith. “The care I received from the staff from the minute I walked in for my physical exam to waking up in recovery at the hospital was exceptional. They went above and beyond, and I am so grateful that I had the team that I had.”

After his surgery, he began cardiac rehabilitation, where they then discovered he also had an irregular heartbeat, which can be common after surgery. The team monitored the situation, and Tonye Teme, MD, cardiac electrophysiology, at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital eventually conducted the ablation surgery to fix it.

“I feel like a new person and am back to doing what I love. I am once again able to hike, bike and be with my family—and now with a healthy heart.”

Since his surgery, Smith has completed a hike on the Continental Divide Trail in Colorado, climbing to a peak of 14,000 feet with his child and grandchild—and ready for more to come.

For more information about the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Medicine, please go to Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital | Northwestern Medicine.