Balloon 'last chance treatment' for heart failure

Richard Reach and Prof Olaf Wendler Image copyright KCL
Image caption Richard Reach was treated by Prof Olaf Wendler (left) at King's College Hospital in London

Scientists have used a pioneering balloon technique as a "last chance" treatment to help a patient with severe heart failure.

Richard Reach, 59, had the balloon device implanted to close off a leaky heart valve, after he was told he was too unwell to have open heart surgery.

Doctors at King's College Hospital say the procedure allowed him to improve enough to have more permanent surgery.

With further trials, the device could help thousands more patients, they say.

Special permission

Mr Reach, a builder from Kent, suffered severe heart failure after a heart attack - leaving him extremely unwell and short of breath.

The damage to his heart meant one of his heart valves no longer worked properly, creating a backflow of blood and putting extra strain on his heart.

But when conventional treatment was deemed too high a risk, doctors decided to ask UK regulators for permission to try the new Mitra-Spacer device on compassionate grounds.

Made in the United States, by company Cardiosolutions, it had previously been tested in pigs.

Mr Reach had the device implanted in June 2015 and was allowed home just a few days later.

Image copyright Cardiosolutions

How it works

  • The balloon - the size of a small chilli pepper - is inserted using a keyhole technique - without the need for major surgery
  • It is put in place at the damaged valve and inflated to stop the backflow of blood
  • The balloon is then connected to a port just below the patient's skin - so it can be inflated or deflated over time, depending on the patient's condition

Five months later, Mr Reach's heart had recovered enough for surgeons to carry out a conventional operation to repair the valve.

Mr Reach said: "Just as it seemed the medical team had run out of options Prof Wendler suggested the new treatment.

"Now I'm walking around and feeling better each day. What the team has done for me is nothing short of a miracle.

"I owe my life to them."

Prof Wendler, head of the surgical team that carried out the operation, believes the device could replace open heart surgery for some patients with damaged heart valves.

He said: "You always have concerns about doing first-in-man procedures but the most important thing is to make sure we carry on and do proper studies."

He will now be involved in large-scale international trials.

Prof Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the approach was imaginative and relatively simple.

He added: "By using an adjustable balloon to reduce the amount of blood leaking across the valve, this techniques gives the heart a chance to recover sufficiently to withstand conventional valve surgery.

"It allows the surgeon to buy time and should also alleviate some of the patient's symptoms.

"Further research is now needed to establish which patients are most likely to benefit from it."

Heart failure affects around 1.5% of the UK population. Prof Wendler estimates some 5%-10% of patients have severe heart failure involving their heart valves and could benefit from this type of procedure.

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