Grandfather first in UK to undergo new form of pioneering heart surgery

Report by ITV News Meridian's Andy Dickenson

A grandfather of five from East Sussex has become the first person in the UK to undergo a new form of pioneering heart valve surgery.

Ron Thomson, 81, had a leaking mitral valve, but instead of the usual open heart surgery, doctors at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton advanced the replacement valve from a vein in his leg and up through the body. 

Mr Thomson, from Sayers Common near Hassocks, had the operation last week and was back home walking his dog less than two days later.

The procedure is less invasive, quicker to complete, reduces the patient's stay in hospital and speeds up recovery.

The Royal Sussex County Hospital is one of a number of European hospitals taking part in a trial to discover how successful the new procedure will be.Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust is leading the trial for the UK and was the first to do the completely transcatheter procedure in the UK. A second procedure is planned in two weeks for a female patient.  

Dr James Cockburn (left), Jessica Parker, Senior Research Nurse (centre) and Professor David Hildick-Smith (right) Credit: University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust

Professor Hildick-Smith, an Interventional Cardiologist who helped lead the team, said "It's a completely new way of implanting a mitral valve in the heart; it's never been done in the UK before.

"The standard way to do it is with open-heart surgery, which is a major invasion of the body and requires the heart be stopped for the duration of the operation.

"This procedure is done without interrupting the heart while it pumps.

"This sort of procedure has been done with the aortic valve but the mitral valve is different, it is much more intricate and more difficult to get to.

"We have had a lot of success in doing a similar procedure on the aortic valve, and we are involved in many trials in this arena so we were very honoured to be chosen to lead the study for the UK and do the first cases.

"For this new approach, we go in through an artery in the groin and go up to the heart. It is an ingenious technology and requires us to make a lasso around the base of the leaky mitral valve. This part is technically challenging.

"We then go in through a vein in the other leg, puncture between the sides of the heart and put in the valve through this puncture into the correct place, pushing aside the leaking one.

"We watch it all on ultrasound and x-ray to be fully in control of what we are doing.

"The net result is a fully functioning new valve without open heart surgery."

Ron was back walking his dog just days after the operation Credit: ITV News Meridian

He added: "It is pretty technically demanding and we had people from Canada and California, people who had done the procedure themselves, watching on and guiding us as we went along while the whole process was being filmed by a crew.

"It's great news for the future that this works. It is going to be better for patients.

"There are no deep incisions, no cutting into the chest, no stopping the heart or putting patients on a bypass machine to do the breathing and the circulation of blood and overall it was much quicker."

Currently the equipment used for the operation can only fit one size and shape of heart and Mr Thomson was chosen because his was a perfect fit.

The procedure is known as the 'High Life' as manufacturer's hope that is the life patient's return to once they have been fitted with a new valve.

Ron is looking forward to that being just the case.