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HEARTFELT CARE

HEARTFELT CARE

Heart rhythm disorder treatment facility a big asset for West Coast communities

Comprehensive service using state-of-the-art technology for the best and safest care 

The opening earlier this year of a state-of-the-art new electrophysiology (EP) laboratory — where heart rhythm disorders of all kinds are diagnosed and treated — at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital in Sunningdale has proved to be of immense value to communities along the West Coast. The EP laboratory is the first of its kind within the region.

General manager of Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, Dirk Truter, says that they are privileged to be working with cardiologist and electrophysiologist, Dr Vinod Thomas, who has super-specialised in the field of heart rhythm disorders. Dr Thomas is managing the new EP laboratory, which has been equipped with the latest in technologies and includes a comprehensive pacemaker service.

“Electrophysiology is a highly specialised field that diagnoses and treats problems with the ‘electrical’ system of the heart. Our EP service offers a full range of investigations and treatments for all types of heart rhythm disorders and adds to the already impressive capabilities of the hospital’s cardiac centre,” notes Truter.

Dr Thomas explains that the heart is more than just a muscle, it also involves a complex electrical system that serves to drive the heart’s chambers to contract in a coordinated rhythm to push blood out to every cell in the body. When the system is damaged by heart disease in child or adulthood, ‘short circuits’ can result, causing disturbances in heart rhythm called arrhythmias.

“An interventional electrophysiologist uses minimally invasive ‘keyhole’ laparoscopic interventions to repair the heart’s damaged electrical circuitry. We could be considered the ‘electricians’ of the heart,” adds Dr Thomas.

Dr Thomas explains that arrhythmias are conditions that may result in the heart either beating irregularly, too fast or too slow, resulting in a wide range of possible symptoms including a fluttering or racing heartbeat, dizziness, light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath and/or chest discomfort. In more serious cases they may result in a stroke and even a sudden and potentially fatal cardiac event. For these reasons, Dr Thomas advises those who are experiencing such symptoms to have them investigated by a cardiologist or cardiac electrophysiologist.

“Cardiac electrophysiology is a relatively young speciality, and as the accurate diagnosis of arrhythmia was just emerging in the early 1980s, back then patients could only be told ‘You have got this arrhythmia, but there is not much we can do about it’, and they had to just live with the risks and symptoms that may have been associated with their heart rhythm disorder,” he says.

“Today, however, we have a growing range of options for treating heart rhythm disorders, from conservative treatment with medications to cutting-edge catheter-based laparoscopic ablation procedures. The latter involves using a catheter to advance a tiny ablation tool that uses energy to destroy, or block, the damaged electrical pathways of the heart in order to restore normal heart rhythm.”

Comprehensive service with state-of-the-art technology

“The Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital EP laboratory is equipped with highly advanced 3D mapping equipment, one of just a handful of hospitals in South Africa with such highly specialised technology. This technology makes it possible for nearly all patients to undergo diagnostic mapping and ablation treatment in the same sitting.”

In addition to ablation procedures and conservative therapy, Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital’s EP laboratory also offers a range of other services in this field including tilt testing and EP studies to assist in the accurate diagnosis of arrhythmias. It also offers a comprehensive pacemaker service which includes single, dual chamber or biventricular pacemakers, as well as advanced implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and single, dual chamber and CRT (cardiac resynchronisation therapy) devices.

Dr Thomas has also successfully performed a new pacemaker implantation technique, known as His Bundle Pacing (HBP), which he regards as the “pacemaker procedure of the future” because it is the first technique that involves direct stimulation of the heart’s own conduction tissue and thus achieves better heart functioning.

“As no two arrhythmia patients are alike, and different patients may require very different approaches for treating their conditions, we can customise an individual’s treatment from the comprehensive range of treatment options for this medical condition. We are, for example, among the few EP laboratories in the Western Cape where complex new ablation procedures are performed,” says Dr Thomas.

Other developments the cardiac team

In other news from Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital cardiac department, well-known Cape Town cardiologist, Dr Jan-Peter Smedema, and cardiac-thoracic surgeon, Dr Johan van der Merwe, who are both from the Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital cardiac department, were awarded their doctoral degrees from what are among the world’s foremost universities.

According to Truter, Dr Smedema was awarded his degree by the University of Maastricht, while Dr Van der Merwe, who is a highly experienced cardiothoracic laparoscopic surgeon, was awarded his doctorate by Erasmus University Rotterdam, which is also based in the Netherlands.

In addition, cardiologist, Dr Annari van Rensburg, joined Blaauwberg hospital in the middle of last year on a full time basis. Truter says that Dr Van Rensburg is a talented cardiologist and interventional cardiologist, who completed her training at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital in December 2016. During this time she was also a top student in, and attained her Certificate in Adult Cardiology before commencing private practice.

“We are committed to continue enhancing the services we offer to the rapidly growing communities along the West Coast. With the opening of the EP laboratory at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital we are now able to provide our patients with the best and safest care for heart rhythm disorders,” concludes Truter.

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