Surgeon urges HK to plan for transplants

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Visiting heart pioneer says new procedure can save children's lives

An eminent surgeon from Hong Kong has called on the city's health authorities to investigate providing transplant operations for children suffering from heart disease.

The plea was made by Victor Tsang, who left the city in 1976 and is now a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. He returned to Hong Kong this week at the invitation of the Children's Heart Foundation, after taking part in a landmark heart operation in Britain.

In February, he and his colleagues successfully removed a transplanted heart from 12-year-old Hannah Clark, after her own defective heart had recovered sufficiently to function on its own. Ten years earlier, Hannah, from Mountain Ash in South Wales, was only two years old when she received the transplanted heart, in an operation called a heterotopic, or 'piggyback', heart transplant.

Dr Tsang said that Hong Kong's health authorities would have to research the feasiblity of providing a similar service. But he added: 'To do this sort of thing is very resource-demanding. It is not just money or people. One patient on support will demand a lot of resources from all areas. The government or society must prepare to pay for this.'

Coinciding with his visit, the Children's Heart Foundation has donated $750,000 to Grantham Hospital for specialist equipment for treating congenital heart disease.

Hours after arriving in Hong Kong, Dr Tsang held a conference with Grantham's doctors on caring for child patients awaiting heart surgery. He then operated on a 21-year-old woman who was suffering from a severe obstruction of the aortic valve on the left side of her heart. The three-hour operation was a success.

'The unique [thing] is we managed to save her own valve. By doing that we would be able to offer her a much better quality of life,' Dr Tsang said.

While in Hong Kong, Dr Tsang will also operate on two or three so-called 'blue babies' - infants suffering from complicated defects of the pulmonary arteries.

Dr Tsang is a long-time colleague of heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who performed the original transplant on Hannah Clark in an attempt to treat her for severe heart failure. Sir Magdi served as an advisor to doctors during Hannah's operation in February.

Asked how they came to the conclusion that Hannah would be a suitable candidate for the groundbreaking procedure, Dr Tsang described Hannah's situation as 'a phenomenon. A child's heart can have a tremendous amount of potential to recover from injury, including operation or inflammation or heart failure'.

This meant that time and resources should be spent on research into heart failure in children, because of their significant potential for recovery.

The Children's Heart Foundation is a Hong Kong charity based at Grantham Hospital that supports children born with heart disease. About 400 babies are born in Hong Kong each year with some form of heart disease.