The Heart and Lung Centre at New Cross Hospital covers the Midlands and has the highest success rate in the country. TIM WALTERS explains why he’s not surprised.
I opened the front door and there it was sitting on the mat – a letter which I immediately realised was from my cardiac consultant. It confirmed my worst fears.
A couple of weeks earlier I had been in for an angiogram, an operation which effectively allows doctors to take pictures of the blood supply in the heart.
At the time the consultant from Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital told me that a number of my arteries were severely blocked and that he would consult with his colleagues at Wolverhampton’s New Cross to decide what action needed to be taken.
The letter confirmed that, in their opinion, the best way forward was for me to have a heart bypass operation. It was the news I had been dreading.
My own father had died while having the operation more than 20 years before. Now here I was, aged 46, facing up to my own worst nightmare.
An appointment to attend a clinic arrived in the post a few days later. It was there that I met my consultant surgeon Maciej Matuszewski and got the first indication as to why the Heart and Lung Centre is now the envy of health trusts throughout the country.
I would imagine most people feel like I did when they are told they need to have heart surgery – considerable fear.
But Mr Matuszewski could not have been more understanding nor given me more time as I reeled off a list of questions that, I suspect, gave a pretty fair hint of that fear.
I was shown film of the angiogram, taken through the various options available and, most importantly, assured that bypass surgery has moved on an awfully long way since my father’s operation 23 years ago.
It was something that I would cling on to fervently until I had my own operation.
Mr Matuszewski assured me that any decision regarding the operation would be mine and he ran through the mortality rates and risks associated with each procedure.
If I opted to go for bypass they would use two arteries from my chest as well as taking a vein from my leg.
Everything was explained calmly, rationally and slowly. At no point did it feel as though I was just another number.
After more than an hour I left having been urged to take my time before deciding how to proceed.
Eventually I decided, rather reluctantly, that bypass surgery seemed to be the best option available and so it was that I found myself phoning the Heart and Lung Centre on a Monday afternoon to find out if a bed for me was still available. To my dismay it was.
My wife Charlotte and I packed a bag containing the barest of essentials and made our way in. On arrival at the Cardiothoracic Ward the nursing staff set the standard for what was to become the norm for the next week – exemplary care, utter professionalism, kindness and, most importantly from my point of view, understanding.
Later that evening I saw Mr Matuszewski again, his registrar who would be assisting at the operation and the anaesthetist, who kindly gave me something to make sure that sleep wouldn’t be a major problem.
It was 8am the next day when I was wheeled off to the operating theatre and, frankly, I don’t remember anything else until much later that day.
When I woke up I was in Critical Care, a ward where patients get one-to-one nursing.
But this isn’t nursing from some sort of 1970s sitcom, this is hi-tech, cutting edge care.
It’s difficult to explain exactly what they do but, at the time, it felt like they were almost flying a spaceship single-handedly, there was so much information for them to digest, so many pieces of equipment to monitor while at the same time showing all the skills that their colleagues in the Cardiothoracic Ward displayed.
I spent four nights on the ward and I’m absolutely certain that the level of care I enjoyed, combined with the very great skill of the surgeons, is why the Heart and Lung Centre has the record of excellence that has seen it come top of the mortality tables for the third year running.
Putting it bluntly, you are less likely to die here than at any other heart centre in the country.
After being deemed well enough to return to the Cardiothoracic Ward, I spent a few days recovering before I was discharged exactly a week after being admitted.
Incidentally the notion that you can never see a consultant at the weekend was firmly scotched for me. On both the Saturday and Sunday that I was an in-patient it seemed that there was one round every corner.
And it struck me that both they and the nursing staff never stopped communicating with each other and with the patients who are kept fully in the loop at all times.
And the nurses certainly weren’t afraid to have their say on the patients in their care.
Obviously in many ways that was just the start of the rehabilitation process and it takes some time for the body to rebuild strength.
But I was given plenty of advice on the whole rehabilitation before leaving New Cross and then attended gym rehab at the Princess Royal.
Now I’ve been back at work for 10 weeks, am cycling and playing badminton and had two weeks in the south of France.
I can’t speak highly enough of all the staff, whom it would be invidious of me to name, suffice to say that they know who they are, and that’s why their achievement was no surprise to me.
To give you some indication of how the Heart and Lung Centre is viewed around the world I’ll share this conversation I had with my anaesthetist on the night before the operation.
It was clear that she was from abroad and as we talked we discovered that she had come from Rome.
“What on earth persuaded you to leave Rome, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, for Wolverhampton?” asked my wife, who counts herself as a proud Wulfrunian.
“It’s the reputation of your hospital,” she replied.
I know exactly what she means.