A Toronto hospital broke new Canadian social media ground Thursday, tweeting a heart bypass operation as it happened -- all in a bid to educate Canadians about heart disease.

Beginning at 8 a.m. ET, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre posted 140-character updates to its @Sunnybrook Twitter account, offering details on surgery being performed on a 57-year-old patient first identified only as “Lou.”

Later, the hospital released the patient’s full name: Luigi Spizzirri, of Bolton, Ont.

Everything about the procedure, which took more than five hours, was explained in simple, layman’s terms. As the hospital’s social media editor kept followers updated on how the surgery was going, a staff photographer shot photos and videos.

Those videos included a short clip showing Lou’s heart as it beat in his chest. Another image showed the long, radial artery taken out of Lou’s arm so it could be used to detour around his damaged coronary arteries.

Other tweets explained how a perfusion machine kept Lou’s blood oxygenated while surgeons stopped his heart to attach the new arteries.

And we learned that surgeons like to listen to classic rock radio stations while they work.

Sunnybrook decided to live tweet the surgery, it said, to teach the public about heart disease during Heart Health Month. Bypass surgery is often the only option for patients whose coronary arteries have become clogged with plaque.

During the procedure, officially called coronary artery bypass graft surgery or CABG, a blood vessel is removed from another area of the body and placed around the blocked vessel or vessels to bypass the blockage.

Dr. Gideon Cohen, who led the surgery, said the reason they took the operation to Twitter was to find a unique way to explain the surgery to the public.

“We recognize the fact that it is the era of social media and it’s important to keep the public informed and this is just another method that is both unique and engaging,” he told CTV Toronto before the procedure.

Lou, who consented in advance to participate in the live-tweet, is now recovering from the surgery and reportedly looking forward to recovery so he can get back to his hobbies of fishing, baking and gardening.

This is one of the first times a Canadian hospital has led a live social media event like this. Cardiac specialists at Kingston General Hospital live-tweetedan aortic valve replacement last May, and a handful of hospitals in the U.S. have undertaken similar live events. But taking to Twitter to broadcast surgical events is still a new venture.

The head of Sunnybrook’s digital media communications, Shawn Yu, says there were risks in live-tweeting a major surgery, but he says Lou was considered low-risk for complications.

“Dr. Cohen… made sure we chose someone who was low-risk and who was, quite frankly, very amenable to this,” Yu told CTV News Channel, adding the team has been surprised by the “explosion of interest” the event created.

“We had faith that people would be interested, but it’s nice to see that faith vindicated by the interest we’ve been seeing on Twitter.”

An archive of the event will be posted to Sunnybrook.ca/Sbheart

Warning: The chat replay below may include images that some viewers might find graphic.


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