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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 13:12 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

Patients take heart from new procedure

Kelly Walsh is one of the first patients to undergo the new procedure

A poineering new medical procedure has enabled three children in Northern Ireland to have holes in their hearts corrected without the need for open heart surgery.

Thanks to the advances in medical technology, a patch can be inserted into the patient's groin via a cathether, and then placed over the heart defect.

It means patients can be treated one day and discharged the next with few scars.

[ image: A patch is inserted into the groin through a cathether]
A patch is inserted into the groin through a cathether
Nine year-old Kelly Walsh is one of the first children in Northern Ireland to benefit from the technology.

She had a hole in her heart which allowed too much blood to flow through to her lungs.

When she was diagnosed as a baby, the only treatment available to her was open heart surgery, which would have meant a stay in intensive care.

But paediatric cardiologist Dr Brian Craig explained the new procedure which has drastically reduced time spent in hospital.

"This (patch) in a way acts as a surgical patch would have done formerlly, enclosing a defect between two chambers in the heart.

"All that's required for this device placement is a small entry site in the groin which really heals within a few days and there aren't any stitches involved."

Once in place over the hole in the heart, the device is unfolded to its full size which can be up to four centimeteres wide. Then, 24 hours later the patient is back at home.

The prospect of a major heart operation had been worrying Kelly's parents for years.

[ image: Charmaine Walsh: Delighted with new procedure]
Charmaine Walsh: Delighted with new procedure
But her mother Charmaine said she was delighted when the doctors said her child would not have to undergo open heart surgery.

"It was brilliant," she said. " I was really chuffed. I could not get over it. It is completely different from her getting cut open, getting this procedure done."

Kelly, who was back at the Royal Victoria Hospital for a routine check up just three weeks after her operation, said she was soon running about as normal.

Doctor Connor Mulholland, Paediatric Cardiologist said: "It (the procedure) does not give the child the trauma of a week or ten days in hospital, of a day in intensive care unit, of having a chest wound, of having various drains. For the parents it's much less traumatic."

Twelve other children are currently on a waiting list for the procedure.

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