Less-invasive surgery for heart valve patients

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 January, 2011, 12:00am

A minimally invasive treatment for heart patients with abnormal narrowing of the aortic valve is now available in Hong Kong.

Three per cent of people aged over 75 suffer from the condition, which affects one of the four valves in the heart.

Chan Kam-tim, a cardiology specialist with Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said symptoms of the disease include dizziness and fatigue.

'As the heart valve is too narrow, not enough blood can be pumped to the brain, causing the patient to gasp for breath while walking,' he said.

If left untreated, 40 per cent of patients with serious symptoms of the disease will die within a year.

But one-third of those patients are deemed unsuitable for open-heart surgery as they are too frail or suffering from other illnesses.

Open-heart surgery involves cutting open the patient's chest, stopping the heart and installing an artificial heart-lung machine. It must be carried out under general anaesthetic and patients need six to eight weeks to recover.

The minimally invasive surgery - transcatheter aortic valve implantation, or TAVI - needs only a local anaesthetic and patients are discharged a week after the operation.

The procedure was introduced in France in 2002. A team was set up at Queen Elizabeth Hospital last year to bring the surgery to Hong Kong. The team went to Switzerland and New Zealand to be trained in the technique and the first two local patients were successfully operated on last month.

The procedure involves a metal valve being inserted inside the heart valve via a catheter that goes in through a vein in the patient's thigh.

Equipment for the surgery costs HK$240,000, but cardiology specialist Boron Cheng Cheung-wah said it would be cheaper than open-heart surgery in the long term.

'Traditional open-heart surgery costs over HK$400,000 in private hospitals. While traditional open-heart surgery is free in government hospitals, the equipment for TAVI has to be self-financed in government hospitals,' he said.