History was made last weekend when a live broadcast of a two-hour single-bypass open heart surgical operation was shown on local TV.
Gauteng businessman Waldemar Katze is reportedly "doing well" in the Milpark Hospital's intensive care unit. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) spokeswoman Michelle Kearney said on Sunday that Katze, known as Wally, was expected to spend six days in hospital after the surgery.
The brave man who literally bared his heart to the whole country is a father of two and a grandfather. He agreed to go under the knife on live television as part of the HSFSA’s heart health television education initiative, "Meet Wally’s Heart".
Doctors performed single-bypass open heart surgery on him to rectify narrowed arteries that could put him at risk of having a massive heart attack at any given moment.
He was the first heart patient to tell his cardiovascular story on the SABC 3 talk show, hosted by Noeleen Maholwana Sangqu. The surgery was performed by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Martin Sussman. During the broadcast viewers were able to see the surgery via a live video insert in the corner of their television screens.
Two million viewers watched the operation
Wally, described as a "reserved and sensitive Johannesburg businessman", was overwhelmed with the media and public support he received in the week leading up to the operation and expressed his biggest fear on TV “of not making it”.
However, at least for now, these fears have been put at bay as, according to his medical team, Wally has survived the surgery, but he will be closely monitored for any complications.
“We, along with all Wally’s supporters and the estimated two million viewers around South Africa, are thrilled at the successful outcome of the surgery itself. We are grateful to Wally and his family for allowing us to document his story, and hope that this heart-hitting message has reached all South Africans and made them rethink their lifestyle and diet choices. We are in close contact with Wally’s medical team to monitor his ongoing situation whilst he recovers in high care," said Kearney.
Doctors who performed the single bypass open heart surgery, said while for them it was a routine procedure, they were proud of Wally’s unselfish commitment to share it with others, and they hoped the real-time transmission had educated viewers of the very real risk of cardiovascular disease due to poor diet and lifestyle choices.
'It couldn't happen to me'
Way back in 2000 already Wally had the first warning bells of heart disease, and was put on medication to control his elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels. At the time he had a stent inserted, which was meant to offer him an improved quality of life.
But four short years later he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – which was as a result of his poor eating habits. Wally generally skips breakfast and lunch, and admitted that his meals only occasionally include the recommended portions of fruit and vegetables. Instead, he rather favours a lot of red meat, ranging from braais to bangers and mash and curries, as opposed to more balanced meals which include fruit and vegetables.
Another strike against him is that he is a heavy smoker who smokes around 25 cigarettes a day, and as we know, smoking is known to lead to a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, making it difficult for blood to be carried from the heart to the rest of the body.
Fortunately, however, although he used to drink quite excessively, he claimed he has cut down on this significantly.
As for exercise, Wally apparently enjoys golf, but is the first to admit his exercise routine is almost non-existent and that he only plays the sport around three times in two months. His other physical activity is limited to a couple of rounds of tenpin bowling played via his Nintendo Wii gaming console.
His message for the public and for CVD patients in particular is simple: “Live a balanced, healthy lifestyle, exercise regularly and follow a healthy diet. Bad habits catch up with you later in life, so don’t ever think ‘that can never happen to me!’”
Birds eye view of surgery
But all that is behind Wally now as he has a second chance at life due to the successful surgery performed by well-respected Gauteng cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Martin Sussman and cardiologist Dr Graham Cassel.
For the majority of the broadcast, viewers were able to see Katzke’s surgery via a live video inset in the corner of their television screens, while a panel of experts discussed cardiovascular health in layman’s terms within the custom studio environment close to the operating theatre.
Dr Sussman also wore a pencil camera on his head during the operation, providing viewers with a bird’s eye view of the surgery at various times. The programme crossed over to the theatre regularly to check in on the progress of the surgery and to view key moments in the operation.
Netcare Milpark Marketing Manager, Amelda Swartz, said the crew and their equipment had been thoroughly sterilised under supervision of the hospital’s infection control unit and had to remain inside the theatre for the entire surgery.
“No entry or exit was allowed under any circumstances as the room had to be kept at a certain temperature, since the riskiest part of the operation is bringing the body back to normal temperature once the bypass is complete,” she said.
Katzke’s recovery is expected to take six days in hospital post-surgery and he and his family would have continued access to a qualified psychologist as well as the HSFSA’s Mended Hearts support group.
Katzke in the clear –but what about the rest of SA?
“While Katzke is expected to leave hospital with a new lease on life, thousands of South Africans are at his same risk of heart disease despite dramatic variations in age, gender, race and standard of living. If South Africans continue to consume a diet which is far higher in kilojoules, salt, animal fat, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and added sugar, coupled with predominantly inactive lifestyles, none of this is good news for their hearts.”
Dr Cassel said the Meet Wally’s Heart Project tried to show that even if one had heart disease, they could live a long healthy life if they simply changed their lifestyle.
“Eating badly, drinking heavily, smoking, not exercising, being obese, poorly controlled diabetes – these are some of the major problems that we have in our society and this initiative has made people aware of the problem,” he said.
The important message is not to get to the stage where you have the damage. You can make small changes from a very early age to try to limit cardiovascular disease as much as possible. This includes moderate physical activity like brisk walking, swimming, dancing or participating in non-competitive sports for just 30 minutes per day.
Good dietary choices are key. Opt for a prudent, varied eating pattern with reduced intake of bad fats, particularly saturated fats from animal products. Eat more fruit and vegetables and reduce your overall salt intake. Cardiovascular disease affects everybody – all genders, all races and all economic backgrounds.
Cardiovascular disease deadly, but preventable
Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in South Africa after HIV/Aids, and it is affecting people at a younger age than ever before.. It is responsible for 19.8% of all deaths each year, and one in three men and one in four women will suffer from heart-related illnesses before they reach 60.
A report released last year by the HSFSA in partnership with the Medical Research Council showed that while HIV/Aids is currently ravaging the 18 – 35 age group in South Africa, the country was also losing a significant number in the age group of 35 – 64 years due to cardiovascular disease. Actuarial projections also predict that heart disease and other chronic diseases will have increased by 2010, with a 41% increase in premature heart-related deaths expected between 2007 and 2030.
Shan Biesman-Simons, director of nutrition and education at the HSFSA, said while Project Wake Up did include a hefty shock factor, its main objective was to show South Africans what they could do to ensure the health of their own hearts.
“This graphic reality television screening will show that cardiovascular disease is a harsh reality, but a largely preventable one all the same.
“People have a fair degree of control over risk factors such as stress, obesity, inactive lifestyles, poor nutrition, smoking, hypertension, diabetes and high blood cholesterol, all of which contribute significantly to the health of our hearts,” she said.
Local diet to blame
South Africans are now consuming a diet which is far higher in kilojoules, salt and animal fat, processed foods and added sugar, and far lower in fruit and vegetables and unrefined carbohydrates than in previous generations. Coupled with predominantly inactive lifestyles, none of this is good news for the heart,” said Biesman-Simons.
Small lifestyle changes and moderate physical activity such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing or participating in non-competitive sports for just 30 minutes per day can reduce the risk of heart attack and give one three times the chance of surviving such an attack.
Kearney urged South Africans to take simple measures such as changing one’s diet to a heart- friendly one, incorporating exercise into one's daily routine and getting to ‘know one's numbers’ by having cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure levels tested regularly.
Currently about 195 South Africans – or 13 minibus loads – die each day because of some form of heart and blood vessel disease (cardiovascular disease). Of these, heart attacks are responsible for about 33 deaths per day and are twice as prevalent among men as in women. About 60 people die perday due to strokes and about 37 due to heart failure. Other forms of cardiovascular disease claim 65 lives daily.
(Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA, Health24.com, July 2008)
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