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Trailblazing Belfast doctors share heart operation skills with 6,000 medics in US

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 16/10/2015

Cameras roll as surgery gets under way
Cameras roll as surgery gets under way
Cameras roll as surgery gets under way
Cameras roll as surgery gets under way

Three life-changing heart operations carried out by a top team of Belfast doctors have been broadcast live online to thousands of people at the biggest cardio conference in the world.

Around 6,000 medical professionals in San Francisco watched as Dr Simon Walsh and Dr Colm Hanratty, based in Belfast City Hospital, carried out three complex procedures, one after the other, on Wednesday. It was beamed live to the Trans catheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics (TCT) Conference - the world's largest and most important educational meeting, specialising in interventional cardiovascular medicine.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Dr Hanratty (46) said the team, which carries out about 500 of the specialist procedures a year, was delighted with the results.

"Because of our expertise locally we were asked to be involved as a recognition and reflection of the skill set and team we have in Belfast

"The three patients were two in their 80s who were turned down for bypass surgery, and a woman in her late 60s."

Each procedure lasted an hour with the first beginning at 5pm and the final operation ending at 10pm

The team involved three doctors, four nurses, a clinical physiologist, who monitors the blood pressure, and radiographer.

Dr Hanratty explained that as the cameras rolled the two doctors carried out the operations and the other doctor interacted with the audience and panel watching.

"It is completely interactive. In the auditorium there is about 6,000 people watching live. The patients were all standard cases and the procedures all went extremely well," he said.

The two consultants have been developing the complex operation over the last seven years. It offers a lifeline to people who are deemed unsuitable for by bypass surgery.

"We put a catheter into the wrist and then put a guide wire down the narrowing of the blockage and the stents act as a scaffold to keep the artery open. It is less invasive than a bypass. At the very least it is an improvement in quality of life."

Among his former patients is 65-year-old Ian Killen from Portaferry.

"Ian's case was a 10 out of 10 in terms of complexity - the cases we did on Wednesday were about a two," he said. "Our technology develops so rapidly that these 500 patients who we can treat now, five years ago would not have been able to have received the operation.

"Ian was basically sent home to die at 56 because he was deemed unsuitable for a bypass. But his quality of life was radically improved."

The procedure costs around £2,000 more than an average angioplasty operation, but Dr Hanratty said it saved the health service more in the longer term.

He added: "The issue is that as the population is getting older they are getting less able to withstand some forms of surgery and the challenge is, do you do nothing?

"But the patient will use resources such as hospitalisation or use complex procedures.

"The benefits to the patients compared to a bypass are the same in terms of quality of life but the insult is less because it is minimally invasive."

He said it was vital that funding for such procedures continued.

"What we want is to be allowed to continue to develop and we will continue to treat as many patients as we can, but there are constraints and challenges facing us."

"The big disease killers in Northern Ireland are cancer and cardiovascular disease. Rightly so there is great investment in cancer, and we've seen the benefits of that, but we'd like cardiovascular disease having the same priority.

"We just want to be afforded the ability to develop."

Belfast Telegraph

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