An open heart surgery is a major operation performed on the muscles, valves or arteries of the heart. ‘Open heart surgery’ typically refers to the fact that the chest is cut open, however; minimally invasive surgeries (with and without the use of robotics) are now performed i.e. small, keyhole incisions are made through the chest to access the heart.

Performing a open heart surgery in an air ambulance.

Open heart surgeries are usually done for patients who have coronary artery disease and need coronary artery bypass grafts to reduce the risk of a heart attack. It can also be done in patients who need heart valve replacement or repair, patients with septal defects and patients who need a heart transplant. An emergency open heart surgery may be needed if a patient is experiencing symptoms like severe chest pain and investigations show that it is due to a cause that must be relieved immediately to avoid a heart attack.

Because emergencies demand rapid responses, there is need for innovative measures in order to save the lives of patients involved. Air ambulance teams around the world endeavour to provide those measures by conducting procedures on the heart in the pre-hospital environment, ensuring that more lives are preserved before the patient is able to access care in the hospital.

In October 2013, London’s Air Ambulance team performed a roadside open heart surgery on a 16-year-old teenager who suffered from a knife attack. In May 2019, the Great North Air Ambulance team performed an operation on a victim of a stab wound who had gone into cardiac arrest and almost lost his life. Within minutes of their arrival at the scene, the doctors performed a thoracotomy and made incisions on the pericardium to enable them remove blood clots and save the patient’s life. The procedure was done on the street as it was predicted that the patient would have died before reaching the hospital.

Unfortunately, open heart surgeries are not commonly done in Africa, much less West Africa. Facilities for emergency surgeries are also scarce, meaning there is a sizeable unmet need for these life-saving procedures. As technology continues to help ensure advances in medicine, there is further need to embrace minimally invasive surgeries which encourage less injury to the patient and shorter hospital stay.

Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa’s first indigenous air ambulance company, aims to bridge this gap by providing immediate care to patients who need these life-saving interventions. With our commendable track record, reliable partnership with hospitals, competent list of doctors in different specialities and determination to always provide innovative measures in emergency medicine across Africa.