As a kid, Joseph McGinn Jr., M.D., dreamed of becoming a rock star. “The problem is I don’t play an instrument and I can’t sing, so that wasn’t going to work for me,” he says.
He became a rock star nonetheless — of the operating room.
The chief of cardiac surgery at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, Dr. McGinn is internationally renowned for pioneering a technique that allows heart bypass surgery to be performed in a minimally invasive fashion without splitting a person’s chest, spreading the ribs and stopping the heart.
Patients from across the world have sought him out for minimally invasive coronary artery bypass graft surgery, including hospital CEOs and physicians whose expertise allows them to investigate various options. They put their confidence — and their very lives — in Dr. McGinn’s skilled hands. “It is a very humbling experience,” Dr. McGinn says.
Known internationally as the McGinn Technique — it was once mentioned on television’s Grey’s Anatomy — his surgery is performed routinely in only a handful of American hospitals. Even fewer offer triple and quadruple bypasses done in this fashion, as he does routinely.
Still, Dr. McGinn is not quite comfortable having his name attached to the procedure. Being featured on one of television’s most popular medical dramas was a thrill for his friends and family, especially his wife, but mention of it still makes him blush. “I’m kind of a modest guy,” he says.
Growing Up in Brooklyn: Diehard Yankees Fan
Dr. McGinn is true to his working-class roots. He grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Not only does his carry his father’s name, but he upholds the family tradition of supporting all the New York sports teams. He’s a “diehard” Yankees baseball fan and also loves the Giants and Knicks. That loyalty can be a challenge in sports-crazed Miami, he says, but “I am clinging onto them.”
Dr. McGinn and his wife raised five children together. He’s proud of all them — “All I really want is for them to be happy.” But he displays a little added twinkle when he reports his oldest son, Joseph T. McGinn III, is becoming a cardiac surgeon. He is eager to see his son blaze his own trail. “It’s so exciting.”
Dr. McGinn arrived at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute in 2020 just as the pandemic was forcing a nationwide shutdown of elective surgeries. Maintaining a positive outlook, he treated the shutdown as an opportunity to carefully train and develop a synergy with his new team.
“It’s a very complex operation,” he says of his minimally invasive approach. “The heart is beating all the time — it’s the only organ in the body that constantly moves around. It’s a vital organ, obviously, so the utmost care and diligence is required.”
The traditional approach to bypass surgery was developed more than 50 years ago and requires a long and painful recovery. After witnessing how difficult this can be on elderly patients in particular, Dr. McGinn devised a new approach that accesses the arteries through an incision between the ribs. Since 2005, he has performed more than 2,000 of these surgeries. He continues to seek ways to make the procedure better, faster, safer and less painful for patients.
In addition to the good results he has achieved, he is gratified by what the less grueling procedure means to patients who support themselves or their families.
“The traditional surgery requires three months to recover. Patients are told they won’t be able to go back to work, and for a lot of people that is unacceptable,” he says. “They have jobs, they may be breadwinners of a family. They’ve got to get back to work — that’s very important for them.”
Recently, he says, he was happy to help a patient who was a plumber and who needed a triple bypass. “He had a very small business — one apprentice and himself. He also had two kids in college, a mortgage, a lot of fees and expenses. He couldn’t afford a three-month rehab,” Dr. McGinn says. “We pride ourselves in saving physical lives, but in this case, we saved somebody’s economic life, which can be almost as important in some cases.”
Dr. McGinn wishes more people knew about the minimally invasive option because it could truly benefit them. “In South Florida, there are many people getting their chest cracked open unnecessarily every day,” he says. “The concept behind this surgery is we don’t break any bone and we don’t cut any muscles, so the structural integrity of the chest remains intact.”
Focus on Innovation
Dr. McGinn was attracted to South Florida for two main reasons. From a professional standpoint, he was drawn to Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute’s focus on innovation. “They have a vision. They want to create a comprehensive cardiac surgery unit —meaning that we cover every single aspect of cardiac surgery, and we don’t just cover it but we do it in the most innovative way,” he explains. “My whole career has been wrapped around innovation.”
On a personal level, he could not resist the climate and the opportunity to live near the water. An avid boater, his romance with the sea began at a young age. “I started off with inflatable rubber boat when I was 10 years old,” he says, adding he has had a boat ever since. His boat is named Cabbage, a reference to coronary artery bypass graft, whose acronym, CABG, is pronounced cabbage in medical circles.
Just being on the dock near his boat gives him a sense of peace. “All of our lives are crazy busy,” he says. “We all have so many things going on, and if you can get something to distract you from all those crazy things that are going on in life, you’ve got a perfect solution to anxiety.”