In an Australian first, an aortic valve has been replaced in a 92-year-old Australian woman without open heart surgery.
In the new procedure which was developed in the United States, enables doctors to use a valve delivered by catheter. The valve is attached to a long rod and fed through a small incision in the groin up to the heart, where it defrosts and expands.
The state-of-the-art operation will replace conventional open heart surgery for many older Australians who are too frail or ill to cope with a major operation and long recovery time.
Kathleen Condon, a 92-year-old from Port Macquarie in New South Wales, became the first to undergo the procedure on Wednesday, but her doctors say dozens of other Australians will soon follow, Australian newspaper reported.
"This is a major breakthrough for older patients who have a worn out, failing aortic valve and too many other medical problems to make conventional surgery a good option," said David Muller, director of interventional cardiology at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.
"With this new technology, we can offer more patients a better prognosis, sparing them surgery and a months-long recovery period, which all huge benefits, especially if you're in your 80s or 90s."
Professor Muller said it was timely given the number of patients requiring heart valve replacement was expected to increase sharply over the coming decades.
Mrs Condon, a keen bridge player with an active life, said she was relieved to avoid full surgery and was feeling "remarkably well" just 48 hours after her operation. The otherwise stressful operation did not appear to be taking a tough toll on her.
"I'm actually hoping to join a gym after all this is over," she said.
Four other NSW residents, all aged over 80, have since had the procedure, and hospitals in Brisbane and Melbourne will soon be offering it.
Specialists say younger heart patients will not be offered the procedure until it has been proven just as effective in the long term as conventionally inserted valves.