Heart surgeon Niels Verberkmoes of the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven has perfected heart surgery. Thanks to him, patients who suffer from atrial fibrillation, a specific form of cardiac arrhythmia, can be helped faster and better.
Every year, 400 Dutch people are treated for these heart complaints. The new operation is a small revolution and there is interest from all over the world. Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder, especially in older people. It is not life-threatening, but usually requires treatment to prevent damage to the heart.
Since the 1990s, open-heart surgery has been the next option if drug treatment or keyhole surgery through the groin does not help. The part of the heart that causes the problems was, as it were, switched off by heating or freezing it. But such open-heart surgery is drastic for patients. The procedure takes an average of four hours and the recovery also takes a long time. The surgeon has to make a big cut in the chest and saw the sternum in half to be able to reach everything. In addition, there is always a risk of complications such as a cerebral infarction with such an operation. “The surgeon turned out to be able to access everything much better from the other side.”
Doctor Verberkmoes and his team wanted to improve open heart surgery and that could be something very simple. From now on, the surgeon will not stand on the right, but on the left of the patient during this operation. “It turned out that we could reach much better everywhere in the chest. It can be that simple.”
That discovery suddenly made the operation much easier. Practice has shown that the operation now takes not four, but two hours and that not two, but four patients can be treated by the same team a day. “We make it so simple that every heart surgeon can do this.”
Where many heart surgeons in the Netherlands are also skilled in working with a camera for surgery, it is different abroad, according to Verberkmoes.
“There this is often a bit outside their specialism. That is why we have made the new operation as simple as possible so that every heart surgeon can perform it.” As a result, people with cardiac arrhythmias worldwide can be helped by more doctors. “People who have finished treatment can sometimes still be helped.”
Doctor Verberkmoes now flies all over the world. “It does me good to teach them this method everywhere. People who were out of treatment because the surgical technique was too difficult for doctors without experience with keyhole surgery, can now sometimes still be helped.”
The heart surgeon from Eindhoven has received worldwide praise for his invention, but modestly does not want to speak of a ‘revolution’. “But I think it’s nice to be able to make my contribution to medicine in this way.” What he finds particularly important is that patients benefit from it. “Because the shorter an operation, the better for the patient.” On Friday, Verbermoes will receive his PhD for his research into the new treatment for cardiac arrhythmias.
For Eindhoven News: Lila Mehrez