UK first heart op saves London's Strongest Man

Tuesday 11 August 2015

London's Strongest Man Kamil Wojniak, and surgeon Mr Vinayak Bapat

Pioneering surgeons have performed an aortic heart valve replacement without splitting the breastbone for the first time in the UK – saving the career of London’s Strongest Man.

The heart team at St Thomas’ Hospital replaced Kamil Wojniak’s leaking aortic valve through an anterior right thoractomy (ART), a 5-6cm keyhole opening in the chest.

Until now the only way to replace the aortic valve, which controls the flow of blood out of the heart's left ventricle and around the rest of the body, was by cutting the breastbone down the middle to gain access to the heart.

Kamil, 30, from Gravesend in Kent, had just been crowned London’s Strongest Man when he was diagnosed with a leaking aortic valve in November 2014.

He says: “After the competition I started getting very short of breath, especially during training sessions. I visited my GP and he sent me to my local hospital where I was told I needed to be rushed to St Thomas’ for open heart surgery.

“I was distraught. I thought my career was finished. Training and competing is my entire life and I knew that there would be no chance of me competing again if my breastbone was broken.”

Kamil was placed under the care of consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Mr Vinayak Bapat. Mr Bapat and his team of anaesthetists, nurses, and heart and lung machine technicians, are the only team in the UK trained to perform ART operations.

Mr Bapat says: “Kamil’s aortic valve was leaking very badly and needed replacing. If he’d had traditional open heart surgery, he would have been unable to continue his weightlifting career because splitting his breastbone would have weakened his chest too much”.

“Although initially I was concerned about how such a small incision would work on a patient with such a large muscle mass, the CT scan showed no reasons why Kamil would not benefit from the ART operation.”

The team at St Thomas’ Hospital has performed more than 70 ARTs since they returned from Arizona USA in February 2014 where they were trained in the technique. They are now setting up a similar training programme of their own to train other UK and European centres.  

“The new procedure has many benefits for patients. It reduces trauma so patients recover quickly and are therefore ready to return to their normal lives much sooner than if they had open-heart surgery,” explains Mr Bapat.

Kamil’s ART operation took three hours and he was in hospital for four days afterwards. Two weeks after his surgery he was back in the gym regaining his strength and setting his sights on his next competition.

“It felt so good to be back in the gym doing what I love. Mr Bapat has given me a second chance to succeed. I’m determined that I am going to win the World’s Strongest Man title for him. He saved my life and my career and I cannot thank him enough,” says Kamil.

Kamil’s first official competition since his surgery will be in Spain in June as he works towards the World’s Strongest Man title in 2016. His wife Sandra and their children, Laura, six, and Oliver, three, will be supporting him along the way.

Dr James Coutts, clinical director of cardiovascular services at Guy’s and St Thomas’, says: “We’re fortunate to work in a health system that allows the development of pioneering life-changing treatments like this and we’re grateful to work within a Trust that is so supportive of this work.

“This development in cardiac surgery is a huge step forward for the UK. It puts us at the forefront of medical research and development, which improves patient care and saves lives.”

Last updated: August 2015

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