Sussex grandad, 81, is first in UK to undergo pioneering heart surgery

A Sussex grandfather has become the first person in the UK to undergo a new form of heart valve surgery after a pioneering procedure.

Wednesday, 11th August 2021, 11:49 am

Eighty-one-year-old Ron Thomson had the operation at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton last week - and was back walking his dog less than two days later.

Ron, from Sayers Common, had a leaking mitral valve in his heart and to correct this with a new replacement would normally have required open-heart surgery.

But for the first time in the UK a procedure was carried out without any chest scar.

Ron Thomson and his wife Judith

The valve was advanced from a vein in the leg, up through the body and replaced the leaking valve.

University Hospital Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Brighton hospital, is leading the trial for the UK and was the first to do the completely transcatheter procedure in Britain.

The team was led by cardiologists Professor David Hildick-Smith and Dr James Cockburn. Professor Hildick-Smith said “It’s a completely new way of implanting a mitral valve in the heart; it’s never been done in the UK before.

“The standard way to do it is with open-heart surgery, which is a major invasion of the body and requires the heart to be stopped for the duration of the operation.

Dr James Cockburn, Senior Research Nurse Jessica Parker and Professor David Hildick-Smith

“This procedure is done without interrupting the heart while it pumps. This sort of procedure has been done with the aortic valve but the mitral valve is different, it is much more intricate and more difficult to get to.

“We have had a lot of success in doing a similar procedure on the aortic valve, and we are involved in many trials in this arena so we were very honoured to be chosen to lead the study for the UK and do the first cases.”

He added:“Ron was fully awake an hour after the procedure and was able to go home after two days whereas with open heart surgery you are probably talking 7-10 days.

“We hope it will make a big difference to his life. We are delighted that the procedure went really well and we are looking forward to being able to offer it to others.”

The procedure is known as the ‘High Life’ as manufacturers hope that is the life patients return to once they have been fitted with a new valve.

Ron is looking forward to just that. “I am the number one in UK - but there were six other people who were seen before me but were not a fit. So I was seven time lucky. So 007, that’s me.

“Hopefully it will make me feel like James Bond. I was really proud and happy to be the first here to have it.

“I didn’t know much about it mind, I was out cold wasn’t I?

“I was in and out in two days and back walking my dog. Incredible.”

He thanked the medical team who looked after him and added: “I’ve got three daughters and five grandchildren so they are all happy for me. And I am happy to be back home with my wife Judith and looking forward to getting about in the garden again.”