Nova Scotia

New procedure helps avoid open-heart surgery

Nova Scotians who need a heart valve replaced may no longer have to undergo open-heart surgery, because a simpler procedure available in other parts of Canada has come to Nova Scotia.

Good for those too weak to undergo major surgery

Earl Jewers, 90, says only 48 hours after getting a new heart valve, he feels good. (CBC)

People who need a heart valve replaced may no longer have to undergo open-heart surgery, because a simpler procedure available in other parts of Canada has come to Nova Scotia.

The first two patients to have undergone the transcatheter procedure in Halifax will soon be heading home.

Earl Jewers is amazed he's up and around just 48 hours after getting a new valve, and he expects to go home Tuesday, less than a week after surgery.

The last time he had surgery 18 years ago, doctors had to open his chest and stop his heart.

"There's no comparison. This was maybe an hour and a half, two hours and I don't know how long the other was but it took me a long while to recuperate from. And I was much younger then,"Jewers said.

At 90, Jewers is an ideal candidate for this new procedure, doctors say.

Although it takes a team of doctors, nurses and technicians to do it, putting in the new heart valve only takes a small incision.

Surgeons simply guide the valve through an artery to the heart and the new valve is then inflated over the damaged one.

If all goes well, doctors say, recovery and relief is almost immediate.

"A lot of people at that age and these people are in their late 80s and 90s really don't feel up to major cardiac surgery," said Dr. John Sullivan, a cardiac surgeon.

Although it costs more to change a heart valve this way, there are other savings.

"These patients could have stayed in ICU for a longer period of time and they may have stayed in hospital for a long period of time, so these are patients who need long-term intensive care," said Dr. Najaf Nadeem, the cardiologist heading up the program with Sullivan.

For those not strong enough for open-heart surgery, this new procedure is a lifesaver.

"I can breathe good. I haven't been able to walk around much yet because I haven't had a chance for exercise but I think it's a great improvement," Jewers said.

Doctors estimate they'll be doing this procedure 15 times over the next year. But with Nova Scotia's aging demographic they figure they'll be doing a lot more in years to come.  

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