UNTH Carries Out 175 Open Heart Surgeries


By Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu

The University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu says it had successfully conducted 175 Open Heart Surgeries since the reactivation of the program at the hospital in 2013.

The hospital’s Chief Medical Director, Dr. Chris Amah said a total of 22 persons made up of 10 adults and 12 paediatrics had been slated for surgeries with seven already successfully carried out.

The hospital had conducted its first open heart surgery in 1974, the first by any hospital in Black Sub-Saharan Africa. The program was however suspended following the hospital’s relocation to its permanent site in 2004 as well as the non-availability of the necessary facilities at the new site. It however resumed in 2013.

Addressing newsmen at the hospital in Ituku-Ozalla, at the formal flag-off of the 14th Session of the programme in which a United Kingdom based Non-Governmental Organisation, Save-a-Heart Foundation (SHF), led by a Nigerian born Surgeon, Dr. Onyekachi Nzewi was driving the dream.

He said since the recommencement of the programme in March 2013, the hospital had recorded about 90 per cent success, noting that being a notable Heart Centre in the country, the hospital could boast of the State-of-the-art facilities that could effectively compete with the best heart centres across the globe.

“This is the 14th Mission in the role of Open Heart Charity Mission. They come here on 100 per cent charity.  The fees are highly subsidised.  What ordinarily should cost as much as N4.5 million in view of the foreign exchange palaver now cost as low as one million naira or at most N1.5 million. This is good news for the country.

“We have our partners from the UK, Dr. Nzewi from Royal Victoria Hospital, UK and a Director with the SHF is leading a team of nine experts on this mission and they are working with our local team. By this weekend,  this team will leave and another set of Paediatric Heart Surgeons will arrive to handle the 12 paediatric cases,” he said. He expressed optimism doctors from the hospital who had undergone intensive overseas training would be handling the open heart surgeries without assistance from foreign doctors before long.

He said that several others were on the waiting list for the surgeries, noting however that before anybody was operated on, such a person needed to be prepared psychologically and medically “to know that heart surgery is not a death-trap”.

While describing heart surgery as a “high risk surgery” where up to 20 per cent mortality was acceptable, Amah noted that the hospital had continued to improve by the day, noting that unlike in the past, the hospital could now handle up to three cases in a day. He expressed appreciation to their partners from the VOOM Foundation led by Dr. Vincent Ohaju who had consistently assisted the hospital with medical equipment running into several millions of naira.

Amah noted that the hospital would want to carry out at least 100 open heart surgeries annually if enabled by funding, noting that because of the huge financial involvement in carrying out the exercise coupled with the fact that most people with heart related diseases were poor, most people were yet to take advantage of the exercise in the hospital.

“I can tell you that if we have improved funding, we can even handle 200 cases per annum and this will save these country huge sums of money that ordinarily would have left the country through capital flight,” he said.

Also speaking, one of those who successfully passed through the surgery for Aortic Valve Replacement last Monday, Anthony Udeh from Umuabi in Udi council of Enugu state expressed delight for “my positive experience”, noting that his family had planned to fly him abroad until they were referred to UNTH.

It could be recalled that the Head of Cardiology Department of the Hospital, Prof. Basden Onwubere had recently raised the alarm that over five per cent of the nation’s population may be living with Surgically Amenable Conditions and asked governments at all levels to map out resources to arrest the situation before it degenerates to an unmanageable level.

He had lamented that research had shown that over five per cent of Nigerians both children and adults live with Surgically Amenable conditions, urging urgent attention in that regard.

“Five per cent of 170 million is so much, many people who have heart diseases and in need of operation are poor, they just call it rheumatic fever and the person’s valve is terribly damaged, many people are not able to do anything because of money. It costs a lot of money. Now we have the manpower, we need government funding

“Government has to sponsor people, if every state sponsors 10 patients each year, it would go a long way in reducing the number. If not for our foreign collaborators, it would have been a big issue,” he lamented.