Leaky heart valves can leave patients struggling for breath and lead to heart failure. Repair usually involves open heart surgery but Michael Hammond, 66, an architectural website editor from Hove in Sussex, underwent a world first procedure to treat it, as he tells CAROL DAVIS.
After a busy August bank holiday laying a new deck five years ago, I started to feel a strange fluttering in my heart, as though gerbils were running around my chest. It made me anxious. Until then, I’d always been so well.
The next day I saw my GP, who sent me straight to hospital where they diagnosed atrial fibrillation — an abnormal heart rhythm. Doctors delivered an electric shock to jolt my heart back into a normal rhythm.
Two weeks later I had an echocardiogram — an ultrasound scan of the heart — which revealed a leaking mitral valve.
This meant my heart wasn’t working efficiently as the cords attaching the valve to the heart wall had snapped and it was allowing oxygenated blood to slip backwards.
Repair of leaky heart valves usually involves open heart surgery but Michael Hammond, 66, an architectural website editor from Hove in Sussex, underwent a world first procedure to treat it
Leaky heart valves can leave patients struggling for breath and lead to heart failure [file]
I was stunned. I was still cycling everywhere and wasn’t experiencing breathlessness.
Doctors said I needed open heart surgery to repair the valve. I spent ten days in hospital and came out on Christmas Eve 2013. After that I had echocardiograms every three months to check my valve function.
Then, in summer 2015, I was devastated to learn that more cords had snapped. I couldn’t face more open heart surgery but the doctors agreed I could put off the procedure as my condition was stable. They’d just continue to monitor me.
Then my mother was also diagnosed with mitral valve failure, but at 86 she wasn’t fit enough for open heart surgery. Instead she had the more unusual option of keyhole surgery to fit a new valve and was in hospital just a few days.
I saw her cardiologist, Professor David Hildick-Smith, in September 2017 and asked if I could have the same procedure.
He said he could fit a new valve through the veins, pushing back the flaps of the natural valve to fit a synthetic one inside it.
I had the procedure at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton in March. It was a much shorter operation than before and I was in hospital for just three days.
But while I’d kept very fit before the surgery, I struggled for breath afterwards. I couldn’t cycle and my legs felt like lead when I climbed the stairs.
Tests showed that one of the flaps of the new artificial valve was partly blocking another valve close by, leading to the aorta, the body’s main artery. It seemed the only solution was the one I’d tried to avoid: open heart surgery to insert a mechanical valve.
But then Professor Hildick-Smith told me about a new technique using a wire fed into the heart through the veins from the top of the thigh. An electric current is passed through the wire, which acts as a knife cutting through the faulty flap to split it in two so it doesn’t block the blood flow.
A trial is running in the U.S. using this technique prior to a new valve being implanted in order to get the flap of the old one out of the way and avoid a potential blockage, but it had never been done after the valve was in place. I was the first in the world