If he wasn't wrapped in hospital scrubs and standing in an operating room, you'd think Derrick Stouder was playing Ms. Pacman in a video game arcade.

If he wasn't wrapped in hospital scrubs and standing in an operating room, you'd think Derrick Stouder was playing Ms. Pacman in a video game arcade.

Stouder stared into a high-definition computer screen, flicking a trackball with his thumb and working a row of buttons with his other hand, as a team of heart surgeons performed a life-saving bypass surgery just feet away.

With each turn of the trackball, a crystal-clear image of the patient's heart made 360-degree turns on the screen, giving Stouder a view of the organ from all sides. "It's very helpful to have a three-dimensional image of the heart during this surgery," Stouder said. "We know exactly what's going on in there before the first incision."

Stouder is a registered cardiac sonographer, tasked with manning the latest in echocardiography technology, which uses high-resolution 3-D imaging to give surgeons the best-quality view of a patient's heart before and during surgery.

Doctors at Rogue Valley Medical Center have been using echocardiography for 40 years, but only within the past year has the technology evolved to give surgeons a 3-D view of the heart.

Echocardiography uses high-frequency sound waves to generate images and sounds of the heart and arteries. No radiation is involved, which is a bonus for patients concerned about exposure.

Dr. Brian Hall, an anesthesiologist, said 3-D imaging is a boon to heart surgeons who once relied on muddled two-dimensional pictures to find leaky valves and scope for evidence of heart disease, cardiac tumors and blood clots.

"The 2-D images were like looking into a snowstorm and were hard to decipher until you'd looked at it over and over," Hall said. "With the 3-D, the image resembles exactly what you would see when you open the chest."

On Friday, Hall and Stouder monitored the image of a 77-year-old Klamath Falls man's damaged heart. The patient was undergoing open-heart surgery after suffering a hear attack earlier in the week.

Hall and Stouder positioned the computer a few feet from where the surgeons worked to transfer a leg vein to the patient's chest.

Stouder clicked on various views of the man's heart, focusing on a leaky valve showing blood wisping back into the heart instead of being pushed into a vein.

The image resembled a Doppler radar showing a storm system moving over a weather map. The blood was given a bluish hue, which stood out from the heart muscle.

"This allows us to see exactly where the blood is going and where the leak is," Hall said. "This patient has a tiny leak that we probably would have missed without this image."

The surgeons would repair the leak before closing the man's chest.

Last year, more than 4,000 adults and 500 children had echocardiograms at RVMC.

This technology is barely a year old, RVMC spokesman Grant Walker said.

The hospital has four of the new echocardiography machines and is looking to add more in the near future, Walker said.

Hall said the technology saves patients money and time, because it helps ensure heart problems are taken care of during the first surgery.

"We won't have to go back in and take care of something we might have missed," Hall said. "It's like looking into a house through a window. You know what's inside before you walk in."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.