Highlights — 26 October 2012 — by Albert J. Ciego
Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital now offering heart surgery

Two patients of the jewel are now benefiting from open heart surgery, being performed by a team of doctors from different countries, at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), which is now able to offer this type of advanced cardiac care procedure through international collaboration. Belizeans suffering from heart diseases or heart-related problems no longer necessarily have to travel to foreign countries to undergo the lengthy and expensive procedure, which is now being performed locally and meets international standards. Through an outstanding cardiograph program at the KHMH, heart diseases and problems are investigated to identify those needing the open heart operation or other corrective procedures.

Doctor Adrian Coye, Director of Medical Services and also the Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the KHMH, said that the open heart surgery is being performed at the KHMH at international standards, and it is being performed by doctors who are experts in their field. He said that it is a team effort, and there are many components. This is the second open heart operation that is being performed at KHMH. The first was performed last year and it was successful — the two patients who received the procedures are living normal lives. This second round of open heart surgeries is also expected to go well, and the two patients will also live normal lives, said Coye. The program will benefit Belizeans substantially, Coye said. Belizeans with heart problems who come to the hospital and are diagnosed after the investigation, will save money by not having to go overseas; the procedures required will be done here, and will be cheaper, but at the same standard as procedures done internationally. A Belizean requiring open heart surgery would otherwise have had to pay the cost of travel, in addition to an average cost of around $100,000 for the procedure; in contrast, the procedure can now be done at home in Belize for an estimated $5,000 USD.

The KHMH’s program is being supported by specialist doctors from several countries. During their time in Belize, they assist in training and improving the skills of our local doctors, and eventually the program will be conducted entirely by Belizean doctors, Coye said.

Coye said that open heart surgery is complex, and is multidisciplinary. The operation requires a team which includes cardiac surgeons and critical care doctors, among others. The patient is put on a heart- lung machine, the heart is stopped and corrective surgery can be performed. The heart can then be taken out and examined. There are four valves in the heart. If any of these are faulty, for example a leaking valve or blocked valve, these are replaced. The procedures being performed today on the two patients are nitro valve replacement and an aorta valve replacement. There are many heart conditions and ailments that warrant the performance of surgery. Last year a bypass surgery and an aneurism surgery were carried out, he said.

Coye said that the KHMH now has a lab that investigates cardiac problems to confirm the existence, or absence, of certain heart problems, and since last year around 70 cases were dealt with. He said that this machine effectively diagnoses heart diseases and other cardiac problems. This allows them to identify patients with heart disease and blockages of heart valves, and those found with heart problems are recommended for open heart surgery and preparation for the surgery begins.

Coye said that presently the valves are donated, but there is an anticipated cost, which has not yet been worked out. But the drive is to make this very expensive and lengthy procedure accessible and affordable to Belizeans.

He cautions that the cost can be potentially quite high, because there are many factors, like critical care, if something should go wrong, loss of production when people cannot go to work, and other possible circumstances. These costs are far bigger than the actual cost of the procedures, he said. The procedure can only be carried out at the KHMH and it is open to everyone.

The cardiac care program is one program among many others that are available at the KHMH.

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