CLEVELAND - University Hospitals cardiologist Marco Costa isn't much of a TV watcher, so he didn't recognize "McDreamy" -- actor Patrick Dempsey -- when he ran into him on the Los Angeles set of Grey's Anatomy. But Costa was invited to the set to bring some authenticity to a scene with actress Sandra Oh for the Valentine's Day episode that includes a heart procedure.
For years, Dr. Costa has been involved in the development and research of a device called "the parachute." It is used to redirect blood flow in a heart that has been damaged by a heart attack. Approved for use in Europe, it is about to be tested across the U.S. in five hundred patients.
"There is a lot of innovation out there, but very few as transformational as the parachute in a heart," said Dr. Costa.
The heart parachute addresses the incurable condition of heart failure, in which a portion of the heart muscle is "dead." The rest of the heart works harder, enlarges and becomes stiff over time, trying to compensate for the imbalance as it continues pumping blood to the nonfunctioning portion of the heart muscle. By redirecting the blood flow, more normal heart function and shape can be restored, and a long list of side effects relieved. The device has won awards for innovation, and it is for that reason that it came to the attention of Grey's Anatomy producers.
Costa's experience with his TV counterparts surprised him, mostly because of their professionalism and knowledge of the medical field, and attention to realistic detail. He said the Golden Globe winning actress who plays Dr. Yang had a lot of questions about the parachute device. She asked him, "does this really help people? She was more curious -- not about the procedure itself -- but more about can we help people with this technology," said Costa. He added that he was able to teach her the procedure, well enough for television, in about five minutes.
While much of Grey's Anatomy focuses on the up and down relationships among its characters, Costa feels they provide a real service to viewers in highlighting medical advances. "They are playing an important role. Some of their viewers would never be in tune with cardiovascular innovation," for example.
Back in the real world, where Costa is a Professor of Medicine at CWRU, Director of the Center for Research Innovation and Director of Interventional Cardiology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, he has been getting a little razzing from his colleagues about "going Hollywood." "I've been getting all the names, you know, McLatino, McCosta - which is probably more appropriate."