Heart Health

04 March 2011

Heart ops: another chance at life

Twenty-four of South Africa's most promising young heart specialists have learned valuable operating skills at the 7th SASCI fellows workshop while saving lives in the process.


Johannes du Plessis of Pretoria is a grateful man. He has been given another chance at life. This Saturday he was one of four patients who were successfully operated on at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital as part of a teaching initiative organised by the South African Society of Cardiovascular Intervention (SASCI).

The 7th Annual SASCI Fellows Workshop aimed to educate 24 cardiologists from public teaching hospitals around the country in the latest revascularisation techniques – life saving techniques for the restoring of the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart. A panel of interventional experts (SASCI members) were assembled at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital for a day of teaching through live moderated cases and lectures.

Johannes du Plessis had his blocked and narrowed heart arteries opened as part of the procedure, while a group of 24 cardiologists still in training looked on in order to hone their own skills. Up until this procedure Johannes du Plessis’ case was considered risky to undertake. After the procedure last Saturday Johannes du Plessis was back at home with his family where be belongs. The procedure was highly successful.


A procedure called angioplasty was performed on Johannes du Plessis during which wires were used to guide balloons and stents to open up his blocked arteries. During the live transmission the operators commented on the technique used and carefully talked the delegates through the dynamics of this difficult case. One of the branches had been blocked for many years creating a particularly challenging situation. The end result was two stents normalising the flow through the arteries and restoring the flow of blood to the heart.

Certain of the Fellows present were able to scrub in during the procedures in order to obtain some hands on experience. The four procedures all went well according to the team and the patients were all strong enough to be discharged from hospital the very next day.

Asked if he minded being a live teaching aid, Johannes enthusiastically responded: “If it helps us train our doctors I am okay with it.” Johannes was a patient of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital and was asked if he wanted to participate in the workshop. It was a chance that he grabbed with both hands as he suffered a debilitating heart attack in December 2010 and was in need of interventional assistance. Johannes’ case was a pro-bono case that was sponsored by Netcare. Johannes was therefore able to access the procedure at no cost whatsoever. The doctors did not charge for their time for any of the procedures and Netcare and the other industry sponsors covered as much as possible of the costs relating to the procedures.

Cardiologists in training

Dr Joshua Motaung, a Cardiologist from the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria says that this is the fourth SASCI Fellows Workshop he has attended and as usual he found it extremely beneficial. 

“I always learn a great deal from experienced operators,” he continued. “They make one particularly aware of the flashpoints – the possible complications that can arise – during a procedure. We do not always have the kind of equipment and skills in the state sector that we have seen here today, so I am thankful to have been able to attend these workshops.”

Dr Motaung said it was good to see the private sector assisting the public sector in an initiative such as this. He hoped that the two could cooperate further in order to bring more learning initiatives to the South African medical profession.

Keir McCutcheon, a Cardiologist-in-training at the Charlotte Mxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, said that the SASCI Fellows Workshop had provided him with a tremendous opportunity to learn from South Africa’s leading interventional cardiologists. “I am grateful to the organisers and sponsors who made the workshop possible,” he added.

Heart attack

Sixty-two year old Peter Groom from East London was another patient who was successfully treated on Saturday. Like Johannes, Peter also was happy to be able to participate in a programme that aimed to impart important skills to South Africa’s cardiologists in training.

Peter cycled right across New Zealand, from South Island to North Island, a distance of more than 2000km, last year. He has always been fit and led a healthy lifestyle, so he was rather astonished when he suffered a heart attack earlier this year. This grandfather of two was treated for calcification that had caused a narrowing of and blockage in his arteries.  

“I collapsed after a training session for the Argus Cycle Tour,” he pointed out. “I have never drunk alcohol or smoked, and have always eaten well and gotten plenty of exercise, so my heart attack did come as a shock.”

Interactive workshop

He believes that his condition is a good reason for more mature individuals to visit their doctor for regular checkups and screenings for such health risks as cholesterol build-up and calcified arteries.

SASCI faculty members delivered lectures on various aspects of the subject. The workshop, which was sponsored by Netcare and other industry players, was highly interactive and allowed the doctors to discuss the cases with the panel of experts.

The President of SASCI says that the workshop is a SASCI social responsibility project that aims to enable South Africa’s cardiologists in training to become highly specialised in the field of angioplasty. The very latest angioplasty techniques are demonstrated at the workshops every year to ensure that the Fellows are kept up to speed.

The idea behind the SASCI Fellow workshops is to educate cardiologists in training in these procedures so that more patients in this country can ultimately benefit from them. “SASCI aims to make a real impact on South African medicine and indeed on our society as a whole,” he concludes. “This initiative is one of the ways we are attempting to achieve this.”

Press release - The South African Society of Cardiovascular Intervention (SASCI) and Netcare

- (Health24, March 2011)

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