Take Heart, Help is at Hand

Three-year-old Shannen Chang slept through the night for the first time, after an operation to mend the hole in her heart. Her mother Henny was overjoyed and relieved to see her daughter recovering so well from the operation. Said Henny, "Her sleep pattern had improved tremendously. Previously she used to wake up twice a night due to discomfort but since the procedure, she sleeps through until morning."

Shannen and her parents had flown to Singapore from Medan, Indonesia, for a transcatheter closure of her Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) at Parkway Group Healthcare's Gleneagles Hospital. Commonly referred to as "hole-in-the-heart", VSD is the most common form of congenital heart defects. If left untreated, it may result in heart failure and cause the pressure in the lungs to rise to abnormal levels. Children with VSD tend to tire easily and in serious cases, the condition can be fatal.

In the transcatheter VSD Closure procedure, a device called an Amplatzer Membranous VSD Occluder is inserted through a catheter, or fine tube, to `plug' the hole in the heart. This complex but minimally-invasive procedure is relatively new in the region and can be completed within three hours.

It also costs about one-third less than conventional open-heart surgery and eliminates the need for a heart-lung bypass machine and the use of blood products. In addition, post-operative pain, surgical scars or other complications associated with open-heart surgery are minimised.

Like Shannen, many overseas patients requiring cardiac procedures come to Singapore for their medical care. They are attracted to Singapore's premier medical institutions, in particular, its two world-class heart centres, SingHealth's National Heart Centre (NHC) and National Healthcare Group's The Heart Institute. In this extremely technology-intensive field of surgery, Singapore's well-deserved reputation for high safety standards and its use of state-of-the-art diagnostic and surgical equipment have proven to be major plus points. Coupled with highly skilled cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons, who are specially trained to treat diseases of the heart and lungs, patients can be sure that they are in good hands.

Singapore's cardiologists have also scored several medical firsts, including the implantation of a revolutionary developed-in-Singapore stent in a patient with coronary blockage. Earlier this year, doctors at the NHC cleared the blockage in a patient's heart vessel and implanted the special stent. The brainchild of a local company, this drug-coated, biodegradable stent, also known as a drug-eluting stent, releases an immuno-suppressant to curb the growth of scar tissue around the treated vessel, a common side effect of stent implantation.

Singapore's other major cardiology developments include stem cell research in the treatment of heart transplant patients and the use of the electronic heart assist, a device that gives critically ill patients a reprieve, while they wait for suitable donor hearts. And since Singapore's first successful heart transplant in 1990, surgeons here have performed over 24 successful heart transplants.

Over the years, Singapore has earned a reputation for providing the best care for cardiac patients. The numerous advanced procedures available include nuclear imaging, coronary angiography, coronary bypass, balloon angioplasry and heart valve replacement and repair surgery.

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