Patients wide awake during heart surgery in Saint John

The New Brunswick Heart Centre in Saint John has started performing some heart surgeries while patients are awake.

Patients recover more quickly and can even avoid intensive care, says Dr. Vernon Paddock

Surgeons at the New Brunswick Heart Centre in Saint John have started performing valve-replacements while patients are awake and the director says it has cut down on recovery time. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Heart Centre in Saint John has started performing some heart surgery while patients are awake.

Medical director Dr. Vernon Paddock said a heart-valve can be replaced without putting patients to sleep, and he has seen good results in the two months since doctors started doing it in Saint John.

"There are two types of heart valve replacements," Paddock explained on Information Morning Saint John. "One involves open heart surgery, and the other is a technique which allows us to put the valve in through a small hole in the femoral artery in the leg."

Paddock said not putting patients to sleep during the femoral artery procedure is proving to be successful and allows a faster recovery.

"What we have found is that if we do them while they're awake, the patients are much more stable and they recover much more quickly."

Paddock said other heart centres in Canada were already performing the procedure without anesthetic, and he wanted to try it in Saint John.

Having patients awake hasn't shortened the time required to complete the procedure, but it has taken some pressure off intensive care units.

"Patients spend less time in the intensive care unit recovering because they don't have the anesthetic to recover from," Paddock said. "In fact, some of the patients — now we've started to bypass the intensive care unit and recover them in the cardiac [catheterization] lab."

He said the change has also been a positive experience for doctors and staff.

"It does mean that we have to interact with the patient more than when they're asleep — we have to let them know what's about to happen ... but I think the biggest thing that it means for us is that we see the patients recover so much faster."

Paddock said he is always looking for ways to innovate but only when it benefits the patient.

with files from Information Morning Saint John