Athlone man among first in SA to get new heart op

Phillip Isaacs, 71, from Athlone, was the first patient at Groote Schuur hospital to undergo a new life-saving heart operation which was performed for the first time in South Africa last month.

Phillip Isaacs, 71, from Athlone, is among the first people in the country to undergo a new life-saving heart operation that was performed for the first time in South Africa late last month.

The MitraClip implantation procedure was performed on five patients at Tygerberg and Groote Schuur hospitals on Wednesday September 27 and Thursday September 28.

Max Köster, 87, from Durbanville was the first patient to undergo the procedure at Tygerberg Hospital on the Wednesday and Mr Isaacs was the first patient to have it at Groote Schuur the following day.

It’s a minimally invasive treatment option for patients with mitral regurgitation who may be unsuitable for open-heart surgery, according to Tygerberg Hospital spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar.

Mitral regurgitation is a condition in which the heart’s mitral valve doesn’t close tightly, leading to blood flowing backward in the heart.

Mr Isaacs, who had heart failure symptoms, said it had been his first operation and he had had no previous chronic illnesses.

“None of my close family members have a heart condition. This condition slowed me down because I was out of breath all the time, and my feet became swollen. After the operation, I felt normal again.

“I feel different because now I am no longer experiencing shortness of breath. Since I am still in the healing process, I am taking it easy until I feel completely better. I am so grateful. Many prayers went out for me. The hospital staff were so professional. I was really impressed. I was amazed when they said the operation was done.”

Mr Köster said he felt “very good” after the procedure.

“I can only speak highly of the care that I received here. The staff were wonderful with my admission as well as in the ward. The theatre staff were also very kind. I was completely surprised when Dr (Hellmuth) Weich told me that I could go home a day after my operation. I am going to take it easy because I should take good care of myself.”

Dr Weich, a senior specialist at Tygerberg Hospital, was part of the team of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons from the two academic hospitals that performed the first procedures.

They were the first transcatheter mitral valve edge-to-edge repair procedures in sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

“Because of the cost and complexity of the procedure, this treatment is reserved for patients who are deemed inoperable through conventional surgery with very specific abnormalities to the valve.

“These MitraClip implants are the culmination of years of planning, preparation, and training. What makes the procedures more unique is the fact that most of the patients have full medical insurance, but a decision was made that it should be performed in a controlled environment of academic hospitals. Since it is likely to be performed in limited numbers, the teams from Tygerberg and Groote Schuur hospitals decided to come together and form a single team to ensure the maximum exposure for all team members.”

Dr Jens Hitzeroth, senior specialist at Groote Schuur Hospital, said: “I feel very lucky to have been part of the first procedures and am very thankful that we can offer patients this sophisticated valve-disease therapy. I look forward to the next round of implants.”

To date, nearly 150 000 patients worldwide have undergone MitraClip implantation.

Mitral regurgitation is one of the most common valvular heart diseases and its prevalence increases rapidly with age. Previously, mitral valve surgery was the only option for treating it, but this involves opening an individual’s chest and temporarily stopping the heart which is considered too risky for some patients.

During a MitraClip procedure the mitral valve is reached using a catheter. This is a thin, flexible tube that is guided through a vein in the leg up to the heart. The MitraClip device, which is a small clip, is fed through the catheter and attached to the valve to help it close, restoring normal blood flow through the heart as a result.

The potential benefits of the procedure include a much shorter recovery time, often just one or two days in hospital after the device is inserted. The procedure also enables higher-risk patients to receive treatment and experience a significant improvement in symptoms and quality of life.

Dr Hellmuth Weich, Max Köster, and Professional Nurse Emily de Jongh. Mr Köster was the first patient in the country to receive the life-changing operation. Picture: supplied