A world first for heart surgeons at Sudbury’s Health Sciences North hospital

·4 min read

Heart surgeons in Sudbury have performed surgical procedures that implanted three distinctly new heart valves in three Northern Ontario patients, making Health Sciences North the first hospital in the world to have done so.

The procedures used specially developed Edwards Lifesciences Resilia synthetic tissue heart valves.

Sudbury surgeon Dr. Bindu Bittira explained there was a progression of surgeries using the new valves. The first in Canada to use a single valve — a Resilia Inspiris valve — was in Montreal. Health Sciences North followed up with a surgery done last month using another new Resilia valve. This was the first time in Ontario, and the second time in Canada. The most recent surgery involved using the Resilia mitral valve.

"Yeah, now, after putting in the mitral valve, we're the first in the world to have put all three of these valves with this novel tissue, which I wasn't even aware of myself. The company, Edwards Lifesciences, which is a manufacturer of these kinds of tissue valves was actually the first to tell me that. So, I guess it's sort of a big deal," said Dr. Bittira.

She explained that the patient was an elderly woman who was turned down for conventional open heart surgery. The patient was referred to a Toronto hospital to see if a different procedure could be done.

"They thought she was too sick for that alone. So she came back to my office, still short of breath, very poor quality of life. And this valve came around and we thought, ‘Well, why not? We'll give her the chance with this valve,," Bittira explained. She said the Sudbury surgeons knew it would give the woman a much-improved quality of life.

What also stands out for Bittira is the fact that this type of life-changing technology is not always easily available.

"It's not that it was unique for the patient. It's that normally in Canada, we don't get access to this kind of novel technology, novel tissues. And anything new usually goes to either the U.S. or the European countries. And we were the first to be able to do this," she said.

Bittira said she is also pleased that innovative surgeries can be done in Sudbury and that means that stressful travel is not always required to get access to the same level of care that is usually associated with hospitals in Southern Ontario..

"So it's just great access to the patients of North. We never get this kind of technology here. It often goes to Toronto and now these kinds of things are all accessible here and no one seems to know that. So I think it would be wonderful if they knew that even though we were up here at HSN, no one needs to travel far away to get the same care.”

Bittira's concerns were shared by Dr. Derek MacDonald, another surgeon who took part in the new procedure. He said getting access to new technology also means getting the additional funding to go ahead with the procedure. He said that is a normal part of the health-care system in Canada.

"It's always harder to get your hands on some newer technologies; it's a bit of a fight to pioneer some of these things," said Dr. MacDonald. He said the effort to get funding to carry out new procedures is "always a bit of a back and forth" but he said the medical teams appreciate the hospital's support to acquire the technology and be innovative.

"These new products are not not cheap. That's for sure," he said.

MacDonald agreed that the procedure has been a matter of some prestige for the Sudbury hospital and he was pleased with that.

"You know, I think so. We've gotten some congratulatory messages from some of our colleagues across the country," said MacDonald.

"And, you know, it's always nice to hear from them. And it's a small community in Canada, in cardiovascular medicine, and certainly in cardiac surgery. So everybody, you know, everybody knows everybody else, for the most part.

Both MacDonald and Bittira were pleased with the design of the Resilia valve implants, saying it made the surgical process easier. MacDonald said it has made a difficult surgery easier to do from the technical standpoint.

Bittira said there are other heart valves available, using older technology, but they don't last as long as the new Resilia devices.

"It is a very easily implanted valve. Beautiful structure, extremely easy to handle intraoperatively. So there were no complications with the fact that it was a new valve. No, it's a beautiful valve, very seamless, very easy, and made that way by this company, as are most of their products. So that the patients can have a very quick operation, therefore, less time in the OR means hopefully less recovery time and quicker going home," she said.

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com

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