First-time visit to the UK for complex cardiac surgery

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Raymond travelled all the way from his home in Houston, Texas to London Bridge Hospital for life-changing cardiac surgery in September 2020. Here he shares his story, and why he’s so grateful for the work of not only his consultant who operated on him, but the entire London Bridge Hospital team – including his Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Suzanne, who supported him at every stage.


Raymond's story

Raymond was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome – a genetic condition that affects the body’s connective tissues that support and anchor your organs and other structures – when he was just a teenager. Because connective tissue is found throughout the body, it can affect different people in different ways.

For Raymond, it affected his aortic root (the main blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart). The condition was causing the structures surrounding the aortic root to weaken, meaning the aortic vessel had more room to expand. A dilated aortic vessel can be life-threatening.

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3D modelling of the heart

London Bridge Hospital offers patients with Marfan Syndrome a treatment called Personalised External Aortic Root Support (PEARS) – where a CT scan of the heart is used to construct an exact 3D model of the aortic root and aorta. From this, a bespoke external aortic root, which fits precisely the patient’s aortic anatomy, is made and surgically placed around the aortic root to prevent dilation.

This is instead of having to completely replace the aorta and adjacent valve, which is much more invasive and complex for a patient to undergo. However, the PEARS procedure is a specialist treatment and not widely available, something Raymond would soon discover.

Discovering a ground-breaking procedure

On the time he spent trying to find the right procedure and specialist for him, Raymond said: “I knew I would eventually require treatment and spent some years researching the best way to treat the heart issues that my condition was causing. After a long time, I found the PEARS procedure and to me it seemed like the perfect solution. My search eventually led me to Mr Conal Austin, Cardiothoracic Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital. I read countless positive reviews about him and the hospital and decided that I would travel to London for the procedure.”

His surgery was booked in for September 2020. Against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic, the trip to the UK for surgery was even more daunting for Raymond, however he said that the team at London Bridge Hospital went above and beyond to reassure him, particularly Suzanne O’ Connor, his Cardiac Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). 

“Coming to London for the first time by myself for major heart surgery was initially a scary prospect for me, but after speaking to Suzanne for the first time, that all changed. At a time where so many things were unfamiliar – travelling overseas during Covid, having to organise and take Covid tests before being admitted into hospital and having no visitors – Suzanne knew so much about what was going on – she acted as a motherly figure, guiding me through each of the steps and coordinating my care in such an efficient way. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for her support and guidance,” he added. 


Successful surgery and lightening-speed recovery

Raymond’s PEARS procedure was a huge success. After just five days in hospital, he was discharged and returned to the apartment he had rented in London to continue his recovery.

He adds: “I honestly couldn’t believe how great I felt after just a few days. I think that the physiotherapy team really helped kickstart my recovery in that respect as they had me up and moving so quicky after surgery. Although I was only at London Bridge Hospital for a few days, it was a great place to recuperate - I had never been to London before and was gutted that I wouldn’t be able to explore the city, but at least from the comfort of my room I was able to look out on the River Thames and I tried a traditional cup of tea and fish and chips at the hospital, so I got to experience British culture from within my room!”

After being discharged from hospital he stayed in London for two weeks so that he was close to the hospital to for his follow-up appointments with Mr Austin, before being given the all-clear to return home safely to the US: “Mr Austin was incredibly happy with how I responded to my surgery. Within a month, I was able to return to work in the office full-time and able to do everything that I could do before the surgery and more! It was such a relief to have the surgery and be able to continue living my life free of worry – I couldn’t be more grateful to the team at London Bridge Hospital,” he concludes.

Learn more about the cardiac care we offer here

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