Surgeons programme returns to Cambridge hospitals

BBC Two’s ‘Surgeons: At the Edge of Life’ returns to Cambridge’s two world-famous hospitals at 9pm tomorrow (Thursday 18 Nov) for another insight into life-saving work within their busy theatres.

Jibin Francis and Rod Laing in the operating theatre

The second episode features Mr Rod Laing and Mr Jibin Francis (pictured) from Addenbrooke’s Hospital on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Mr Narain Moorjani from neighbouring Royal Papworth. All are undertaking cutting-edge procedures.

Rod, a familiar face from the last series, and Jibin have a major challenge on their hands. Patient, 65-year-old therapist, Colin, has a slipped disc in the thoracic spine. This disc has turned into bone and is pressing into the spinal cord, and is threatening Colin with paralysis.

Most surgeons refused to do the operation to remove the disc because of the high risk of paralysis during the procedure. To Colin’s relief, consultant neurosurgeons Rod and Jibin – who have special interests in spinal neurosurgery - were prepared to take on the case.

To reach the disc, they must enter through the side of the chest and work deep into the body, avoiding important nerves and blood vessels. The instruments are just long enough. And when Rod reaches the disc, the risks are at their highest as it is pressing against the spinal cord. He must remove it, millimetre by millimetre, without disturbing the cord or else he risks paralysing Colin.

At Royal Papworth Hospital, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, Narain is also operating at the edge of what is possible. His patient, Gertrude, is an active and vibrant 80-year-old who needs surgery on three of the four valves in her heart.

An irregular heartbeat has caused two of the four valves in her heart to stretch and become defective, affecting the blood flow around her body. The third valve has become so hardened and blocked that it is restricting blood flowing out of the heart and needs to be replaced. Without the operation, Gertrude’s heart will fail.

To operate on the valves, Narain will need to put Gertrude on heart bypass, cool her body to just 28 celsius and stop her heart. The bypass machine – operated by a perfusionist - will take over the job of circulating and oxygenating Gertrude’s blood.

But with an elderly patient like Gertrude, being on bypass is a great strain on the body, so Narain and his team will need to work swiftly as well as with precision.

Mr Narain Moorjani, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon, said: “In the episode we are operating on three of Gertrude’s four valves, and the fourth valve is rarely touched in adults, so this is as complex as it gets for heart valve surgery.

“I am lucky to be working alongside a skilled and talented team in theatre who work together every step of the way, and we hope that comes across in the programme. We are very grateful to Gertrude and her family for being part of this series.”

Mr James Wheeler, divisional director for surgery and consultant colorectal surgeon at Addenbrooke’s, said: “This episode highlights how our surgical teams are able to take on challenges that bring new hope and the prospect of a brighter future to our patients. This can only be done with great skill and considerable experience.”

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