West Coast patients benefit from advanced ‘three-dimensional-imaging’ assisted keyhole heart and lung surgery

Advanced technology makes world-class treatment available locally

Friday, February 15 2019

More than 80 patients along the West Coast who required open heart or lung surgery have benefited from keyhole procedures using three-dimensional (3-D) imaging technology, following the introduction of this advanced surgical technique at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital at the beginning of 2017.

In February 2017, Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital became one of only a few hospitals in South Africa where open heart and lung operations using a keyhole incision and state of the art 3-D camera technology can be performed. The procedure has revolutionised heart and lung surgery elsewhere in the world and eliminates the need for large incisions or cutting through the breastbone, thereby offering a wide range of potential benefits to patients.

Pic: Dr Johan van der Merwe (right), a minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgeon, performing keyhole heart surgery at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital.  

Dr Johan Van der Merwe, a minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgeon practicing at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, explains that patients with heart or lung diseases who require surgery are referred either directly from their local general practitioner, cardiologist or other specialist physicians.

According to Dr Van der Merwe, open heart and lung surgery are conventionally performed through a sternotomy or thoracotomy, which are procedures in which the breast bone is divided or the chest wall is incised and the ribs are spread to obtain safe access to the heart and lungs.

Even though technically challenging, minimally invasive open heart and lung surgery evolved to now being the procedure of choice in centres of excellence in the United States and Europe. Utilising state of the art 3-D technology for keyhole heart and lung surgery is highly specialised and the team at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital considers it a huge privilege to offer this service to their patients.

“Because, heart and lung surgery performed with traditional techniques involves rather large chest wall incisions, this requires a lengthy recovery period. With keyhole surgery in 3-D, we perform the same operation but through small incisions with perfect visualisation of what we are doing. Recovery is quick and the vast majority of patients can resume their normal activities relatively soon after an intervention. ”

In February 2017, Dr Van der Merwe and his team performed their first keyhole heart valve operation on a 63-year-old male, who was subsequently discharged home after five days in hospital. In March 2017, he and his team removed a lung lobe of a patient with cancer using 3-D technology. After a quick recovery, the 53-year-old patient was discharged home and was able to walk her dogs on the beach a mere four days after her operation.

Dr Van der Merwe and his team specialise in keyhole heart and lung surgery, with special interest in all aspects of heart valve diseases. He trained for six years under world-renowned pioneers of keyhole and robotic-assisted heart and lung surgery in Europe and the United Kingdom, and now heads the Keyhole Heart Centre and Atlantic Cardiovascular and Thoracic Institute based at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital.

Dr Van der Merwe attributes the success of these particular procedures to a team approach centred around meeting the needs of each individual patient and the delivery of world-class service. “It is a privilege for all of us involved to provide state-of-the-art techniques and technology to patients with heart and lung disease. It is our vision as a team to provide a comprehensive service, where our patients always come first. We are very excited and motivated to do what we are trained to do,” he added.

Keyhole heart valve surgery is performed through a 4 to 5cm incision. By using special instruments, the diseased heart valve can be repaired, removed or replaced with a prosthetic valve. These keyhole techniques are also applied to patients with other heart conditions such as coronary artery disease. Keyhole lung surgery is performed through two or three small chest wall incisions and using a 3-D camera system. The team also looks forward to initiating heart valve replacement procedures through groin access in the near future.

“It is our goal as a team to offer our patients the benefits of minimally invasive and catheter-based interventions, which provide the advantages of significantly less surgical trauma, fewer reported complications, shorter recovery times and, on the whole, greater patient satisfaction,” Dr Van der Merwe explains.

Dirk Truter, the general manager of Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, says the hospital’s modern cardiovascular centre provides patients with comprehensive cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery and vascular surgery services.

“In 2018, our hospital, in collaboration with the Atlantic Cardiovascular and Thoracic Institute, also became the first training centre of excellence in Africa licenced to provide the internationally endorsed Cardiac Surgical Unit Advanced Life Support (CSU-ALS) course. This course, which is presented by Dr Van der Merwe and his team to healthcare professionals in South Africa, equips them to efficiently apply highly specialised clinical protocols aimed at preventing, identifying and effectively treating life-threatening complications in patients who have undergone cardiac surgery.

Truter added that the world-class cardiothoracic surgical techniques performed by Dr Van der Merwe and his team and their critical care competency demonstrate Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital’s commitment to offering the latest state-of-the-art interventions to the communities along the West Coast.


Issued by:           Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital
Contact:               Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:        (011) 469 3016
Email:                   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or  
[email protected]