Too frail to undergo open heart surgery, Mrs Shearman was urgently transferred to King’s College Hospital in September where cardiac surgeons carried out life saving minimally invasive treatment.
The mitral valve controls the flow of blood as it enters the heart. Mitral valve disease is the most common heart valve disease in the UK. Patients with leakages of the mitral valve usually undergo mitral valve repair - an operation performed using open heart surgery in which the surgeon preserves the patient’s original heart valve.
In 2006, Mrs Shearman’s mitral valve had started to fail. As a result, surgeons in Cardiff fitted her with a bioprosthesis or ‘pig’s valve’ via open heart surgery. However, in August this year, the replacement valve showed signs that it was no longer working properly, causing Mrs Shearman to experience chest pain, breathlessness and kidney failure.
Mrs Shearman was told that she was too high risk for any further open heart surgery. However, a surgical team at King’s – led by Mr Olaf Wendler, the hospital’s Clinical Director for Cardiology and Cardiothoracic Surgery – agreed to fit her with a second artificial valve inserted minimally invasively via a small 4cm hole in her chest. Doll is the first person in the UK to have a replacement mitral valve prosthesis fitted in this minimally invasive way.
Mr Wendler said: “We are specialised in repairing mitral heart valves, an operation in which the native mitral valve is preserved and normal function restored. However, as Mrs Shearman’s mitral valve was already replaced previously, only a repeat replacement which usually is done using open heart surgery would have been an option. Due to her age and in general frail condition, we decided to carry out the same treatment but using the keyhole method without the heart lung machine. Although this new approach offers a less traumatic treatment for these kind of high-risk patients, the challenge for us was that only a few of these mitral valve replacements have been performed worldwide."
Despite the seriousness of the operation, Mrs Shearman was awake and talking just two hours after coming out of the operating theatre. Six days later, she returned home to Pontypool with daughter Julia and granddaughter Maddi. She is recovering well, and already seeing improvements in her condition.
Mr Wendler added: “This procedure has transformed Mrs Shearman’s condition. Without it, she would have faced very risky open heart surgery, with less than a fifty per cent chance of survival.”
Speaking about her mother’s condition, daughter Julia said: “Mum is doing really well and there’s no doubt that if she had not gone to King’s for her treatment, she would have died.
“Now, she is walking, eating, climbing stairs and in very good spirits, every day I can see a little bit of improvement. Without Olaf and his team’s expertise my mum wouldn’t be here today. They have saved her life and we are all eternally grateful.”
King’s College Hospital is part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, and together with Guy’s and St Thomas’ is a pioneering centre for interventional minimally-invasive heart valve surgery.
(Pictured is Doll Shearman with heart surgeon Mr Olaf Wendler)