History was made in Kelowna this week as a cardiac surgeon performed the first open-heart surgery in B.C.'s Interior.
Dr. Guy Fradet, hired last year to lead the surgical team at Kelowna General Hospital, operated on a man in a newly renovated operating room Monday night. He's believed to be recovering well and may appear at a ceremony marking the surgical milestone on Wednesday.
The procedure is a turning point for people with heart conditions in the Interior Health region. Until
recently, patients awaiting a non-emergency heart operation had to wait in limbo, taking up hospital beds in the Okanagan or Kamloops. Once the surgery was approved and a recovery bed made available, the patient would have to travel to Vancouver or Victoria.
Two operating rooms on the
second floor of the hospital's Strathcona building were converted to accommodate the equipment and tools needed to repair valves and perform bypass surgery on plugged arteries.
The goal is to perform 15 open-heart operations every five-day week by later next year.
Fradet has two cardiac surgeons working with him. A fourth is expected to join them eventually. For now, the team is working piecemeal, establishing a routine until they hit full speed.
They plan to conduct 150 operations by March 31. Then they expect to do about 600 a year.
The resources needed for such intensive surgery are substantial. Anesthetists, critical-care nurses, radiologists and respirologists contribute to the effort. They work closely with three intervention cardiologists who perform angioplasty, a procedure that uses small balloons and stents to open blocked arteries.
The teams will combine their talents to perform a type of hybrid surgery, where a patient could get a stent or two in the morning and a bypass in the operating room the same day.
The angioplasty team is now doing more than 1,000 cases a year. Most patients can undergo the procedure less than an hour after having an angiogram - an imaging test that uses X-rays to view their blood vessels.
Before people got angioplasties here, they had to spend several days waiting in a critical-care bed in another city.
"We're saving dollars," Dr. Richard Townley, the angioplasty program director for IH, said last year. "Each family member had to find their own way down to the Coast or Victoria . . . A critical care bed can be a couple thousand dollars a day."
The first murmurs of a full cardiac program in the Interior were spoken 30 years ago. Cardiologist Dr. Richard Hooper began lobbying the Health Ministry for full cardiac services in the Interior in the 1990s. Dr. Robert Halpenny, the health authority's CEO, helped inaugurate the program.
The B.C. Liberals announced funding for angiograms and angioplasties, and IH hired 25 people in 2009. To prepare for open-heart surgery, more than 100 staff were hired. Construction of the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre begins in a few months.
Once completed in 2016, the facility will house 15 operating rooms, a heart-focused intensive care unit, and a medical-tool sterilization room.
"This has been a complete team effort. There is no one person who made this happen. There's been lots of teamwork," Fradet said of the cardiac program.
"It will be a game-changer for trauma, emergency, vascular surgery, oncology."
Health Minister Margaret McDiarmid is expected to take part in Wednesday's ceremony.