With a steady hand, a robot repaired Oro Valley resident Tom Moser’s heart while his doctor stood nearby guiding the entire process with his feet.
On April 25 Moser was admitted at University Medical Center, where he underwent an open-heart procedure through a computer and robot-assisted surgery.
The state-of-the-art technique was developed to overcome limitations of minimally invasive surgery. Moser knew if he went through traditional open-heart surgery he wouldn’t be able to direct his beloved Oro Valley Youth @ Performing Arts group for up to six months.
Like any Thespian, Moser said the show must go on. The robot’s superb performance earned a standing ovation, allowing the theater director to get back on his feet and go back to work in just over a week.
Moser also can owe his successful recovery to Dr. Robert Poston. In January, UMC appointed Poston professor and chief of the Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Poston is nationally known for his work in the use of robotics for minimally invasive cardiac surgery. Moser was the 37th patient to undergo the procedure at UMC.
“My aim for our division is to provide distinctive services that are highly valued by patients and their families,” Poston said after being hired. “Robot-assisted heart surgery is a prime example of this type of service. Similarly, our internationally renowned mechanical-assist program, the only one in Tucson, can improve the quality of life for those with severe congestive heart failure.”
Moser, who at 58 was generally healthy, suffered two heart attacks last year.
The most recent attack came in December. Moser said he was in the hospital when a nurse asked him if he wanted to live.
“They were really asking me what I had to live for,” he said. “For me, it was the kids. They shocked me, and here I am back at drama.”
Moser credited finding a place to have the robot-assisted procedure done to Oro Valley Hospital CEO Shawn Strash, who knew of the program at UMC.
Strash said Moser is an “unbelievable” story, remembering the stories his staff told from Moser’s near-death experience in December.
“He had literally flatlined on the table, and came back saying he had to be there for the kids,” he said. “It is just amazing what he has done.”
With the persisting heart problems, Moser knew open-heart surgery was required, but it was a matter of when. After researching the issue, Moser said the show must go on, and robotic-surgery was the only choice.
Moser is in the middle of preparing for a June production of “Annie.” He is directing 50 of Oro Valley’s youth, and obviously delighted that his health won’t stand in the way of opening night.
Moser said a robot going in to repair his heart didn’t make him nervous, noting the electronic tool would never get shaky hands. Dr. Poston used his feet at a computer a few feet away from the operating table to direct the machine.
Moser said he felt safe during the three-hour procedure; he knew if anything went wrong with the robot a team was standing by to go to plan B, which would have been traditional open-heart surgery.
If he hadn’t found the alternative option, Moser said he had considered waiting until after the production in June to get the procedure.
“Everything right now is at its climax,” said the retired educator. “I needed to be free enough and well enough for this production. In my opinion, Dr. Poston saved the show.”
Moser, who retired from teaching drama in the Amphitheater School District, directs the Oro Valley group, which brings arts and culture to youths between the ages of 7 and 14.
For the June 2-4 performances, Moser said he is especially excited this year because he has triple-cast the show, which allows area youth to have their night in the spotlight with a different set of actors for every night of the show.
In the past, Moser has directed a production of the musical classic “Fiddler on the Roof” and the Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast.”
While drama appears to be his passion for life, Moser said he understands the need for exercise, diet and a responsibility to take the opportunity he has to continue living life to its fullest.
“Everyone has to die of something, but my aim right now is to help my life along,” he said.