Heart specialist operates on same patient 25 years apart

Samantha Blake with Professor Shakeel Qureshi. Picture: NHS
Samantha Blake with Professor Shakeel Qureshi. Picture: NHS

A woman who was born with a heart defect has had a pioneering procedure carried out by the same cardiologist who helped save her life 25 years ago.

Samantha Blake, 27, from Haywards Heath, was born with a condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot which causes the heart to form abnormally, affecting around one in 3,000 people in the UK.

Samantha Blake at 18 months

Samantha Blake at 18 months

She was cared for and operated on by Professor Shakeel Qureshi and Professor David Anderson at Guy’s Hospital when she was 17 months old.

The life-saving surgery leaves patients with a heart valve which does not close properly causing blood to leak. Patients usually need an operation to mend the leaking valve in early adulthood.

Last autumn, Samantha became one of the first people in the UK to have the new minimally invasive treatment to replace her leaking heart valve at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, saving her from needing open heart surgery.

The procedure was carried out by Professor Qureshi, 25 years after he first operated on her.

Samantha said: “I felt in very safe hands with Professor Qureshi – he is like an old friend because he has looked after me since I was a newborn.

“It was a big relief having the new procedure because there was a chance I would have needed open heart surgery again without it.

“I had always felt fortunate that I had no memories of my operation as a baby so it had been scary to think it might happen again as an adult.”

Professor Qureshi is the lead investigator in a clinical study assessing the new replacement valve known as the Venus P-valve.

Until now, the other replacement valves available to fix the leakage were too small to fit most patients, meaning only 20 percent could have them implanted and the rest needed open heart surgery for a second time.

The Venus P-valve, which is made from animal heart tissue and is mounted inside a metal tube, is available in much larger sizes so is expected to be suitable for most patients born with Tetralogy of Fallot.

Professor Qureshi said: “It is preferable for patients to avoid having open heart surgery more than once. They can be left with scarring inside the heart from the surgery they had as babies which may make it more challenging for surgeons to open the chest safely again, and there are higher risks of bleeding and infection compared with less invasive procedures.

“We know people who have had corrective surgery for Tetralogy of Fallot will need further treatment to stop their pulmonary valves leaking later in life, so patients have regular scans to check if it has started to affect the shape of their hearts and we intervene at that stage.

“Usually patients haven’t yet developed symptoms but they may experience breathlessness, tiredness and have a lower exercise tolerance.

“Around 100 people have had the valve implanted in the world so far and the majority have had good results.”

Samantha said she never felt different to her friends as a child but in 2015 she notice a change.

She said: “In 2015 I started to notice that it would take me longer to get my breath back when I walked up a flight of stairs and by last year I’d get quite breathless walking up a hill.

“I had regular scans to keep an eye on the leaking valve and last year it had got a lot worse. Leaving it wasn’t an option because it would have continued to deteriorate and eventually my heart wouldn’t have worked properly.

“My breathing returned to normal immediately after the procedure.

“I feel lucky to be one of the first people to have the new replacement valve, it’s like a weight has been lifted knowing that the leakage has been stopped now.”