[Skip to Content]

CVP 101: A Tour of Perfusion Basics

Annually about 400,000 bypass procedures are performed in the USA


Perfusionists help patients with a variety of diseases including:

  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
  • Valve Disease
  • Congenital Heart Defects
  • Dissections
  • Aneurysms: aortic, ventricular, giant cerebral
  • Transplants: heart, liver, lung, trachea
  • Other: limb cancer, hypothermic rescue

By connecting a patient to a Heart/Lung Machine, a perfusionist keeps the patient alive while the heart is stopped. This allows the surgeon to perform delicate surgery on the motionless and bloodless heart.

Coronary artery disease refers to the development of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries of the heart. When this develops, the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is reduced.

Angina is the term given to the symptom of crushing chest pain that patients experience when the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen.

One treatment of coronary artery disease is Bypass Grafting.

This picture is a drawing of the heart as it would be viewed through the right wall of the chest. The picture shows plaque in the Right Coronary Artery (the red vessel) that is reducing the blood supply to the right ventricle. In the picture, this patient has received a single bypass graft (the blue vessel) that has been sewn onto the aorta and the right coronary artery.

This bypass graft now supplies oxygenated blood to the right ventricle distal to the plaque. To perform this delicate surgery, it is generally necessary to stop the heart. This enables the surgeon to place several hair-thin sutures in an area smaller than an eraser tip.

The clinical perfusionist is the professional responsible for keeping the patient alive while the heart is stopped.