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Memorial Hospital's brand-new "hybrid operating room" is outfitted with equipment that allow surgeons to operate when a routine procedure goes awry rather than relocate the patient to another room.

When heart surgeons open a patient's chest to place a stent inside a blocked coronary artery, they occasionally encounter far more damage than first assumed.

Sometimes the damage warrants immediate open-heart surgery, a far more complicated and life-threatening procedure than a stent. That might entail waking up a patient, wheeling him down the hall, sterilizing another operating room and prepping a new batch of equipment -- nurses' stations, surgeon's tools, radiology machines, everything.

Until last week, that's how Memorial Health Care System rolled.

Now the Chattanooga nonprofit hospital boasts a brand-new "hybrid operating room," allowing physicians to morph a standard operating table into a sophisticated heart surgery lab when routine procedures become more complicated.

"It's the most beautiful operating room in Chattanooga," said Lisa Fitzsimmons, a registered nurse and Memorial's executive director of surgical services.

Built in four months as part of a $10 million operating-room upgrade, the hybrid operating room was universally praised by doctors and nurses last week as they explained a bypass surgery already in progress.

Dr. Clifton Reade, a cardiovascular surgeon based at Memorial, raved about the room's ability to consolidate.

"It allows cardiac surgeons, cardiologists and vascular surgeons to perform procedures that normally would take multiple OR visits ... to be done at the same time," he said.

Because it's so streamlined, the hybrid operating room also saves money for patients because only one room and its equipment are used, he said.

At 1,200 square feet, the hybrid is almost twice as large as an average operating room, allowing enough room for a sterile zone marked by a large black square and giving nurses the space to do their many jobs.

"That's big for patient safety," Fitzsimmons said.

The room almost has a human-anatomy sports bar feel to it, with five high-definition television screens that show surgeons up-close views of all the heart's chambers.

Reade, who did part of his training at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said Memorial's hybrid room is the most advanced he's observed despite working in hospitals in cities "much bigger than Chattanooga."

"This is as state-of-the-art as I've ever seen," he said.

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