Pioneering cardiac procedure helping to push boundaries
KEYHOLE surgery is already widely used at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.
The minimal invasive technique is used for some operations in the brain and on the body's waterworks system.
The Hartshill complex hospital became the first in Britain to remove entire kidneys without the need for full-scale operations and guiding instruments through small puncture holes in the skin.
In all these cases the organs are kept completely still to allow doctors to work on them with pinpoint accuracy.
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The major difference of using the method for cardiac patients is that the heart continues to beat throughout the three-hour procedure so it is always in motion.
This is why Balacumara Swama – the surgeon who performs the operations – believes other hospitals have been so reluctant to get involved, leaving the UHNS as one of only three centres in the country to offer the pioneering treatment.
He took an interest in the field early in his career and spent a year perfecting the technique at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital before being appointed to UHNS in 2009.
Since his first case in August on a women from mid-Wales, he has carried out operations on two North Staffordshire patients and two others from Birmingham and Cannock.
Mr Swama said: "With so much less trauma, pain and infection risk, people return to normal activities within two to three weeks when not so long ago they would stay in hospital that long.
"They are left with a small incision in the chest side instead of a gaping one down the middle which takes two to three months to heal with patients on painkillers for six weeks."
An eight-strong team of surgeons, physicians anaesthetists, nurses and assistants works on each patient. Instead of watching progress through monitors, they use specialist torches to peer into the heart.
Sister Michelle Worsdale, a cardiac nurse for 20 years, said: "Before the first operation we did a number of training sessions on dummies as it requires a completely different way of thinking.
"It's so exciting that even though the NHS is having problems financially we are still pushing the boundaries for patients."