BRITISH COLUMBIA

Sister Theresa Stickley Awake During Her Livestreamed Heart Surgery

10/28/2014 02:07 EDT | Updated 12/28/2014 05:59 EST
Less than an hour after having heart surgery on Monday, Sister Theresa Stickley was alert and in high spirits, and was looking forward to going home the next day.

"I'm feeling pretty good. I had a little pressure in the chest, that's all," the 83-year-old woman told reporters from her hospital bed, with the lead surgeon by her side.

"When he told me there'd be cameras, I thought 'oh my goodness sake, just keep me covered,'" she said.

Sister Theresa's aortic valve replacement operation, which went beautifully, was fairly unique in that it was broadcast in real time and observed by hundreds of cardiologists at the 2014 Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver.

It was even more unique due to the fact that the Squamish-based Sister was awake during the entire procedure.

Surgery doesn't entail breaking the sternum

The surgery marks a stark departure from the standard valve replacement operation of a decade ago, in which doctors would have had to break open her sternum, or breastbone, and she would have been recovering in hospital for more than two weeks afterward. A full recovery could have taken up to six months.

But in 2005, B.C. doctors pioneered a new procedure that threaded a replacement valve up to a patient's heart using a catheter inserted into the artery just above the leg.

The technique revolutionized the surgery, and now a team of B.C. cardiologists, including Dr. David Wood, is taking what they believe is the next step forward.

"The innovation done here at the Centre for Heart Valve Innovation is stripping that procedure down to its bare essentials," he said.

Using only a local anaesthetic, patients are wide awake during the surgery. Post-surgery recovery time is usually less than a day.

"As you saw the case took about half an hour, and she'll be mobilized about four hours later and, if she's like the other patients, about over three-quarters will go home the next day—and why that's critical is that you don't pick up infections, you don't have any complications," he said.

In a pilot study, the one-year survival rate went from a 75 to 93 per cent. A clinical trial is about to get underway in 10 centres across North America and by the spring of 2016 the procedure, which also cuts health system costs, could be used in hospitals around the world.

"The economic, potential implications are just staggering," Wood said.

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