Ten years of saving Sussex lives with innovative heart procedure

Doctors in Sussex have marked a decade since they first performed a heart valve procedure for patients deemed too sick, frail or elderly to undergo open heart surgery.

Derek Chatten underwent a TAVI procedure at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals heart centre
Derek Chatten underwent a TAVI procedure at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals heart centre

The team at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH), which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath, has been carrying out Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) in their cardiac centre since December 17, 2007.

They have treated a total of over 800 patients from across Sussex, improving their quality of life and enabling them to return to a more active lifestyle.

Instead of cutting into a patient’s chest to perform open-heart surgery, surgeons reach the heart by cutting a hole in the groin and inserting a new valve from there. The procedure can be carried out under local anaesthetic in less than an hour and patients recover more quickly when compared to open-heart surgery, BSUH said.

Clinicians and patients met to mark ten years of the procedure in Sussex

Professor Hildick-Smith, consultant cardiologist at the Sussex Cardiac Centre, said: “In 2007, we were the third hospital in the UK to start implanting aortic valves without opening the chest.

"This therapy has been outstandingly successful and since that time we have implanted over 800 'TAVIs' in patients from the South Coast, with the lowest documented mortality in the country for this procedure."

A celebratory event was held in Brighton on Friday (December 15), to mark ten years since the procedure was first offered in Sussex.

"At a time when the NHS is under extreme pressure, this is a genuine good news story," Professor Hildick-Smith said.

The event saw clinicians and patients talking about the procedure, and there were valve displays and virtual reality masks to watch a procedure.

Derek Chatten, an 85-year-old from Brighton underwent a TAVI procedure at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals heart centre in 2009 after experiencing breathlessness when walking and swimming over the course of a few months.

During one particular trip to the shops with his wife, Mr Chatten had to stop as his breathing was so laboured. He booked an appointment with his GP within a couple of days and after some tests was told he had aortic stenosis.

He was told he would need a heart valve replacement and that he was a candidate for a minimally invasive TAVI procedure.

The TAVI procedure was carried out in November 2009, six months after his initial diagnosis, and Mr Chatten was back home three days later.

Since his procedure, Mr Chatten says he is no longer breathless, is able to walk easily, and is back swimming a few lengths twice a week.

He said: “I am so grateful to have had a TAVI. I was home after only three days. Immediately after having the procedure I could breathe easily again and was able to start walking again. Soon after I was able to swim a few lengths again. I got my life back.

"I would strongly encourage anyone over 65 with breathlessness to go to their GP and ask for a stethoscope check, because I have learnt that this is a very easy way to check for heart valve disease.”