New non-invasive heart surgery reduces surgery and recovery time

A Vancouver man was among four heart patients eligible for a new procedure that uses a new valve and is inserted into the jugular vein.

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Gordon Allan is no stranger to heart surgery, having had three open-heart and other surgeries, and he was happy to be included in an experimental valve fix that dramatically reduces the operating room and the recovery time.

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He was among four elderly heart patients with leaky valves who were the first four in the world to undergo the procedure. It was performed at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver by Dr. Anson Cheung. The valve itself is experimental and this is the first time the device has been inserted into the patient’s jugular vein, instead of going through open-heart surgery.

One of Allan’s heart-to-heart surgeries in 1987 “took me quite a while to get over it. This time I spent 33 hours in the hospital,” from start to finish, and the operation itself took less than two hours.

Allan, 69, hopes to continue his active lifestyle, which includes 150 rounds of golf a year, as soon as the weather improves, but with less fatigue than before January’s surgery.

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Allan, who lives in Yaletown in Vancouver and is semi-retired from a financial career, was born with a leaky valve, which meant only three-quarters of his heart was pumping properly.

Photo of St. Paul's Hospital cardiac surgeon Dr. Anson Cheung with his new device known as the Transcatheter Tricuspid Valve.
Photo of St. Paul’s Hospital cardiac surgeon Dr. Anson Cheung with his new device known as the Transcatheter Tricuspid Valve. Photo by Emily Chan

“I wasn’t disabled by any stretch of the imagination, but I want to extend my life and add to the quality of my life,” he said.

His condition is called tricuspid regurgitation and the device is a transcatheter replacement of the tricuspid valve. It cuts operating time in half, from three hours to 1 1/2, and eliminates post-operative recovery time, typically one to two days in intensive care and seven days in hospital, followed by a long home recovery period, Cheung said. Heart surgery patients typically experience fatigue and abdominal bloating after surgery.

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“All four patients (implanted with the new valve) were discharged from hospital the next day,” he said. And they were able to resume their usual activities immediately.

Allan and the three other patients were given the option to volunteer to be the first to have the surgery because they had underlying conditions, Cheung said. The device still needs to undergo further testing before it can replace open-heart surgery for otherwise healthy people. But Cheung will perform four or five more procedures next month.

Cheung had fitted the device to two patients using the traditional method in 2019, but Allan’s surgery in 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19. In the meantime, Cheung has developed the non-invasive procedure which involves an incision in the jugular vein. TAVI, or Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation, involves inserting an artificial valve to treat narrowing of the aortic valve through the groin.

He said the cost benefits would be substantial if the procedure became standard due to reduced hospitalization time, downtime from work and the need for less equipment, such as a heart/ lung.

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