A team of Belfast-based doctors shared their ground-breaking heart surgery prowess with the world this week by beaming an intricate procedure live to hundreds of cardiac specialists.
Broadcasting from an operating theatre at the Royal Victoria Hospital, the cardiologists performed a keyhole heart valve replacement procedure which was followed intently by delegates at the European Society of Cardiology annual congress in Amsterdam.
Using the very latest in medical technology, the RVH specialists have pioneered a new technique to transform the lives of many older patients who, due to severe narrowing of the aortic valve, may not be strong enough to undergo traditional open heart surgery.
Cardiologists from both the Royal Victoria Hospital and Ulster Hospital can now assess patients for their suitability.
If someone with a heart condition is considered suitable, then a tiny valve can be passed through blood vessels into the heart without the need for major surgery.
The recovery time is significantly reduced and the patient is usually well enough to return home in just a few days.
Consultant Dr Mark Spence – who led the team carrying out the operation in Belfast – is a co-founder of the Belfast Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) Programme.
“We feel privileged to have been invited by our European peers to host this interactive session,” he said.
“TAVI procedures are performed in elderly patients with complex health problems and require a collaborative approach for their success.
“We, in Belfast, have been early to adopt a minimally invasive approach with this new technology.
“This allows us to implant a new heart valve with our patients awake.”
Dr Spence added: “I am also delighted to report that our patient was well enough to return home the day following the procedure.”
Almost 30,000 delegates attend the European conference making it one of the largest medical events in the world.
Dr Patrick Donnelly, who chaired the session in Amsterdam, said: “This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work that we do in Northern Ireland.
“At the conference we had the opportunity to emphasise the importance of the heart team.
“Bringing together a number of doctors with different specialist skills who review the patient’s symptoms and imaging test results, together creates a collective forum to air best practice, and drive up quality outcomes.”