, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 1 – Thirteen heart patients this week underwent groundbreaking heart surgery at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).
The hospital hosted a visiting team of doctors from Lahey Clinic, in Boston, Massachusetts led by Dr. David Martin, a cardiac electrophysiologist.
The Boston team which comprised of two doctors accompanied by two electrophysiology technicians arrived in the country Sunday 25, and began operations on Tuesday.
"Cardiac electrophysiology is the science of elucidating, diagnosing, and treating the electrical activities of the heart," explained Dr. Martin to Capital NewsBeat in the theatre during the last procedure performed on Friday morning.
"Most of what we\’ve done is implantation of pacemakers and defibrillators and we\’ve also performed catheter ablations and everything has gone very smoothly," said Dr. Martin.
"Abnormal heart rhythm referred to as arrhythmia, means that the heart beats too slowly, too rapidly, or in an irregular pattern. A person suffering from arrhythmia experiences chest pains, shortness of breath, palpitations and fainting," detailed Dr. Martin.
Catheter ablation is an invasive procedure used to remove a faulty electrical pathway from the hearts.
Dr Martin: "It involves advancing several flexible tubes into the patient\’s blood vessels and advancing them towards the heart. High-frequency electrical impulses are used to induce the arrhythmia, and then destroy the abnormal tissue that is causing it.
"For the very first time in East and Central Africa, patients with heart rhythm disorders were treated locally," said AKUH, Cardiology Services Manager, Mr Jacob Mwero.
Mwero says the lack of technology in Africa to diagnose and cure these conditions prompted doctors at the Aga Khan hospital to liaise with their colleagues abroad to be able to arrange for this charity specialist treatment.
Mr Mwero says most of the equipment used for the procedures was brought by the visiting team but the Aga Khan hospital has been preparing for this programme for the last one year by upgrading its catheterisation lab with electrophysiology diagnostic equipment.
The cost of treatment is also prohibitive.
"If you fly to the United States or Europe for this treatment, you are looking a million shillings and above; putting into consideration transport, accommodation, treatment, hospital stay, medication, the buying of gadgets like pacemakers, it a very expensive affair," detailed Mr Martin.
Interventional Cardiologist Dr Harun Otieno who was part of local team says they screened 20 patients and out of that number 13 were selected.
Mr Harun: "Not everybody is eligible; some may be too old, too sick or too weak to have the procedure done.
According to Otieno the success rate of electrophysiology study and treatment is very high. "There are a few things in medicine that you can say completely treat a condition and get one off medication. Catheter ablation for unstable heart rhythms has a success rate of over 95 percent and the patient is completely able to stop medication."
Unfortunately, electrophysiology diagnostic treatment will not be fully available locally in the short-term except through occasional charity programmes like the one just concluded at AKUH.
Dr Otieno says cardiac electrophysiology is a relatively young sub-discipline of cardiology and internal medicine developed during the mid 1970\’s and a qualified cardiologist requires a further 3 to 4 years of specialized study in a leading institution abroad.