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Innovative heart surgery and new PEARS technique

A medical student who was born with a genetic disorder has undergone pioneering surgery to prevent potentially-fatal complications from the condition.

The student had an innovative form of open heart surgery at St Thomas’ Hospital to fix a problem caused by Marfan syndrome. The connective tissue disorder, which affects around one in 3,000 people who are typically tall with long limbs, can lead to problems with eyes, joints and hearts.

The aorta can stretch in people with Marfan syndrome and gradually enlarge, risking a life-threatening rupture. If the aorta grows to a certain size, patients require open-heart surgery to replace or repair the vessel.

A new procedure known as PEARS (personalised external aortic root support) involves fitting a personalised mesh sleeve over the enlarged aorta, supporting it so it does not grow any bigger and is unlikely to rupture.

Unlike conventional surgery, it can be carried out while the heart is beating so a heart-lung bypass machine which has a low risk of stroke is not needed, the procedure is quicker and there is less chance of needing to replace the valve on the affected part of the aorta. Traditionally patients have a mechanical valve replacement and then need to take the blood-thinning drug warfarin for life.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Mr Conal Austin said: “The PEARS technique has proven to be very successful since we started to offer it at Guy’s and St Thomas’ six years ago. Now we are one of the biggest centres for PEARS in the world and I have carried out some of the most complex cases. Many cardiothoracic surgeons still only offer conventional treatment but as patients demonstrate, the PEARS procedure has considerable advantages for them.”

Read the full story at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust