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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Patients to be given heart attacks
Heart surgery
Alcohol is used to stimulate a heart attack
A British surgeon is looking to give three patients heart attacks - live on a satellite link up.

The operation, to cure a rare condition, will be broadcast live to more than 3,000 delegates at a conference in Berlin.


It is very intricate and involves a very precise manipulation of the heart from outside the body

Dr Rod Stables
Dr Rod Stables, a cardiologist at the Broadgreen Cardiothoracic Centre in Liverpool, will inject alcohol directly into the hearts of three patients, giving them cardiac arrests in a bid to cure a rare condition.

The three consecutive operations, which will be carried out at the Liverpool centre, will be broadcast live to the European Society of Cardiology conference attended by some of the world's top heart experts.

The performance of Dr Stables' team will be judged by an international panel of surgeons led by Dr Ulrich Sigwart, who pioneered the technique six years ago.

Questions

Conference delegates will be able to watch and up to 1,000 will be able to ask Dr Stables questions during the procedure and offer him advice via satellite linkup.

They will view his work on three giant screens three metres high and six metres wide.

Dr Stables said he will not feel the pressure of so many people looking over his shoulder during the operations, which will be carried out in September.

He said: "It stands to reason that it must involve slightly more pressure, but if you were a person of nervous disposition, you would not be doing this procedure.

"It has great value as an educational tool. Conference delegates will be able to ask questions as I perform the procedure and I will provide an explanation of what I am doing at every stage.

"It is very intricate and involves a very precise manipulation of the heart from outside the body."

The three patients have not yet been selected for the operations but it is believed two will be from the North West and one from Scotland.

The surgery

The procedure helps reduce the effects of hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, which is an unusual thickness of the muscular wall of the heart.

When the heart beats the muscle wall contracts and bulges into the pathway of blood trying to leave the heart, causing an obstruction.


Given that it is by design a destructive procedure, it is remarkably well tolerated, and generally very safe

Dr Rod Stables
Dr Stables will insert a temporary pacemaker into the right side of the patients' hearts and place a tube into a blood vessel leading to the affected area.

He will then inject pure alcohol, as near as 100% proof as is chemically possible, into the bloodstream.

This will cause a heart attack which will damage that particular section of the heart and kill off the excess muscle.

"It causes a small, localised and highly specific area of heart damage just in this particular target region.

"As the muscle dies it is gradually transformed over a period of weeks into scar tissue, which causes it to shrink back and reduce the obstruction to blood flow."

Dr Stables carried out the first procedure two years ago on Warrington man John Littlewood, and there have been eight more operations in the UK since.

He said: "Before the operation, the patients suffer from breathlessness and an inability to exercise. This is reversed after this procedure.

"As with any complex cardiological procedure there is a small degree of risk, but the risks of something very tragic happening are exceedingly small.

"There are some more minor risks that the alcohol can interfere with the electrical conducting system of the heart, and precipitate the need for a pacemaker.

"But given that it is by design a destructive procedure, it is remarkably well tolerated, and generally very safe."

Wim Van Renterghem, the broadcast producer of Belgium-based Media Ventures, said Dr Stables would be able to cut the transmission if anything went wrong during the procedure.

See also:

14 Jul 00 | Health
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