VA Houston Cardiothoracic Surgery Program is the largest in the VA system, providing minimally invasive procedures, cardiac surgery, and lung surgery.
The Houston VA Medical Center Cardiothoracic Surgery Program is the largest Cardiothoracic Surgery Center in the VA system. On average, the Houston program performs more than 300 cardiac cases and over 25 thoracic cases annually.
It is one of the only programs in the VA system that performs minimally invasive surgeries. Our surgeons each have more than 20 years of experience in the field of cardiothoracic surgery.
Our Surgical Intensive Care Unit has 18 beds dedicated to cardiothoracic surgery patients. On average we perform about 400 heart and lung surgery cases annually.
- Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic (VATS) lobectomy
- Robotic DaVinci lobectomy and mediastinum mass removal
- TAVR (trans-catheter aortic valve replacement)
- Mini thoracotomy mitral valve repair and replacement
- Mini sternotomy aortic valve replacement
- Minimally invasive MAZE ablation procedures for atrial fibrillation
- Convergent hybrid atrial fibrillation ablation procedure
MEDVAMC has a busy practice performing:
- Cardiac surgical procedures
- Coronary artery bypass grafting to treat coronary arterial disease
- Valve repair and replacement to treat cardiac valve pathologies related to the aortic
- Mitral and tricuspid valves
- Aortic aneurysm replacement for thoracic aortic aneurysm and aortic dissections
- MEDVAMC is also in the process of developing a destination VAD program for terminally ill heart failure patients.
- Treatments for esophageal cancer, thymoma, and other rare cancers such as mediastinal tumors and mesothelioma.
Procedures included, but not limited to:
- lobectomy for lung cancer
- esophagectomy for esophageal cancer
- We also frequently treat patients with benign conditions of the chest, such as infections, achalasia, esophageal stricture, diaphragmatic hernia, hiatal hernia, fundoplication for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), and CP myotomy (diverticulotomy) for Zenker’s diverticulum, or esophageal motility disorders.
Cardiothoracic Surgical Team
Dr. Jimenez is the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at MEDVAMC and an attending surgeon at the CHI-St. Luke’s TMC Hospital. He provides care for patients with complex valve disease, thoracic aneurysms, atrial fibrillation, and ischemic heart disease. He specializes in minimally invasive valve surgery, mitral valve repair, as well as coronary artery revascularization with arterial conduits. Dr. Jimenez completed both his general surgery residency and cardiothoracic surgery fellowship on the Harvard Surgical Service at the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Jimenez was an associate professor of surgery at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the James Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, Florida. His research on the effects of ischemia on myocardial intracellular calcium accumulation has helped to significantly improve the make-up of cardioplegia solutions in order to best ameliorate the effects of ischemia on the heart during cardiac arrest. He has investigated the effects of both human umbilical stem cells and chitogen hydrogels on the ischemic myocardium. His clinical research has primarily focused on improving cardiac surgical outcomes within the Veteran population. Dr. Jimenez is passionate about delivering both clinical excellence as well as compassionate care to his patients.
Dr. Cornwell and the cardiothoracic surgery team provide state-of-the-art thoracic oncologic and cardiac surgical services to Veterans. She specializes in surgical care for thoracic oncology patients and in minimally invasive operations, such as Video-Assisted Thoracoscopic (VATS) lobectomy. She uses the DaVinci robot for selected thoracic operations, frequently treats patients with benign conditions of the chest, and has a busy practice performing cardiac surgical procedures. She has contributed to the success of the Trans-Catheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) program at the VA. She also has a special interest in arrhythmias and performs minimally invasive MAZE ablation procedures for atrial fibrillation. Her research focuses on optimization of clinical outcomes of cardiothoracic surgery, especially minimally invasive procedures, off-pump CABG, valve repair, and VATS lobectomy.
Kallel has been the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) coordinator under cardiothoracic surgery since 2016. She coordinates and collaborates with out of state Interfacility Consults (IFC), the TAVR team, and effectively communicates with patients and families as an advanced practice nurse. She has been working at MEDVAMC since 2004 and has a wide range of clinical experience, including as a critical care instructor, a nurse practitioner in vascular surgery, cardiology, and cardiothoracic surgery. She is a graduate of the VA Leadership Development Institute (LDI). She enjoys teaching and has conducted and taught numerous nursing conferences at MEDVAMC and in the community on behalf of the Indian American Nurses Association.
Williams is a physician assistant to Dr. Ernesto Jimenez and Dr. Lorraine Cornwell. She works in the Surgical ICU (SICU) alongside the surgical cardiothoracic team. She formulates and implements treatment and therapeutic plans for SICU patients, and assists in bedside procedures. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi in 2010, Williams completed a Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree from the University of Texas Rio-Grande in 2017. Williams is board certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and licensed to practice by the Texas Medical Board. She is also a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants, and the Texas Gulf Coast PA Association.
Riffel is an Army Veteran who served as a combat medic. He served in Korea and at Walter Reed Army Hospital. It was his experience at Walter Reed Army hospital where he was exposed to physician assistants (PA) and made his career choice. After leaving active duty, he continued as an Army Reservist while completing his prerequisites for PA school. He was selected to the University of Southern California PA Program, graduating with honors and was also selected for the VA Health Professionals Scholarship Program. He has been at the VA for 22 years and loves working with Veterans and considers his job extremely rewarding and challenging. He has had the opportunity to work with great team of cardiothoracic surgeons and helped train 70 cardiothoracic surgery residents.
Delgado has been the cardiac surgery coordinator at MEDVAMC since 2004. He is board certified by the NCCPA and licensed in Texas by the Texas Board of Medicine. He is a graduate of the University of Utah Physician Assistant (PA) Program. He received the Commitment to Excellence Award for the Outstanding Graduate of Class XXI. He obtained his master’s degree from the University of Nebraska. His interest in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery began in Boise, Idaho where he functioned as a first assistant in cardiac, thoracic, and vascular surgeries in a busy practice. He was instrumental in getting approval for the endoscopic vein harvesting system at MEDVAMC. He enjoys spending his free time visiting his children and grandchildren with his wife Wendy.
Chi received his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of the Visayas, College of Nursing, Philippines and was also boarded as a registered nurse. He successfully tested the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) exam in 1993. In 1993, he and his wife came to the U.S. and successfully boarded the U.S. Board of Nursing exam. In 2002, he pursued his master’s degree while working full-time in a leadership role. Chi was awarded a full scholarship from Memorial-Hermann Organization. He attained his Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner track from Houston Baptist University in 2004. Chi transitioned to the Houston VA and has worked as a cardiothoracic advanced nurse practitioner since 2006.
James Swann is an Army Veteran (medic) who went on to graduate from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston following his honorable discharge from the service. He has worked at Walter Reed Army Hospital as a surgical physician assistant. He is board certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants with special recognition in surgery. He enjoys spending time fishing with his sons, who are also Army Veterans.
Sabrina Runbeck has been a surgical physician assistant (PA) since she graduated from Drexel University. She had a wide range of cardiothoracic, vascular and transplant surgery experience taking care of patients from pre-operative consultations, intra-operative procedures, and post-operative care. Prior to PA school, she also earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Thomas Jefferson University. With a goal of providing holistic care for all individuals, she became the department lead in research, conducting surgical quality outcomes for Veterans. She is the lead for education, teaching medical and PA students, as well as being a member of Operative Care Line Continuing Education Committee hosting monthly grand rounds.
Dr. Ali joined the Houston VA in 2018 with a keen interest in cardiothoracic anesthesia cases. He brings with him a diverse practice experience, having previously lived in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New Hampshire. He has a background in biomedical engineering and enjoys exploring ways in which technology can improve the care of surgical patients in the perioperative setting. His non-clinical efforts are spent on technology integration within anesthesiology including quality improvement, automating logistics, and evaluating new products/equipment for use in clinical anesthesiology. In the future, he hopes to utilize his public health background to engage in health care systems improvement with a particular focus on efficiency, and clinical outcomes.
Dr. Aslam is a board-certified cardiac anesthesiologist who was born and raised in New Jersey. Her early interest in medicine led her to complete a 7-Year BA/MD joint degree program at Rutgers University. During her time in Newark, she was closely involved with the community, volunteering at a non-profit health care clinic. After medical school, she completed her anesthesiology residency at Columbia University Medical Center, followed by a fellowship in cardiothoracic anesthesiology at the Texas Heart Institute. Dr. Aslam is an assistant professor in cardiac anesthesiology at MEDVAMC where she provides our Veterans with excellent clinical care as well as educating Baylor anesthesia residents. In addition to pursuing her clinical and academic interests, she spends her free time raising her young children.
Dr. Atluri is chief of anesthesiology and a cardiac anesthesiologist. He is board certified in American Board of Anesthesiology and in Transesophageal Echocardiography. His passion is to provide best possible care for our nation’s heroes. Dr. Atluri is also a professor and vice chair in the Department of Anesthesiology at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). He is a member of Academy of Distinguished Educators and was recognized with many awards for his excellence in teaching and educational Leadership. Dr. Atluri was also recognized with Master Clinician, Lifetime Achievement Award by BCM for his contributions towards the education of the trainees in anesthesiology and has been recognized by MEDVAMC several times for his unique contribution to the mission of the VA.
After graduating from UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Farris continued to residency at Northwestern Memorial hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Farris has also obtained specialized training in adult cardiothoracic anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Clinical interests include anesthesia for open heart procedures as well as anesthesia for minimally invasive cardiac interventions.
Dr. Hankins finished his residency in anesthesiology at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in 2012 and his fellowship in cardiothoracic anesthesiology at the Texas Heart Institute (THI) in 2013. His first faculty appointment was at the THI with an academic appointment as assistant professor in anesthesiology with BCM. Dr. Hankins joined the Houston VAMC in 2017. He is a diplomate of the National Board of Echocardiography for Advanced Perioperative Transesophageal Echocardiography. His clinical interests include anesthesia for complex cardiac and thoracic surgery, mechanical cardiac support, catheter-based procedures, and liver transplantation. He is active in resident education and has won the BCM Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching twice. Outside the operating room his focus is continued quality improvement in perioperative processes
New York native, Ghanaian Heritage, Mensah decided to take his talents to Houston where he attended Rice University. He completed medical school at Baylor College of Medicine with AOA honors and both residency and fellowship at Baylor and Texas Heart Institute respectively. He is a proud father, husband, and health care provider to our nation's heroes.
Dr. Nguyen, director of transplant anesthesia, has been serving Veterans at MEDVAMC since 2008. She graduated from medical school at the University of Texas Health Sciences Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and graduated from anesthesia residency at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. With over twenty years of clinical experience, her focus is to provide exceptional care to those “who have borne the battle.” She has dual academic appointments as an associate professor of anesthesiology at Baylor College of Medicine and assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Her academic interests include perioperative outcomes research and medical simulation education. As an anesthesiologist currently serving in the Army Reserves, her interests include improving combat casualty and trauma anesthesia care for those who are currently serving in uniform.