Surgeons at King's College Hospital in London have for the first time in Britain achieved a breakthrough in replacing a worn out prosthetic heart valve with a new one via keyhole surgery through the chest.
The operation was performed on George Bott, 78, from south London, last month.
Bott had his first artificial heart valve fitted in 2002, but it began to fail last year and started to cause breathlessness and fainting.
Doctors who saw him recommended the new procedure, known as transapical aortic valve replacement, because they thought that it was too risky for Bott to go through another open-heart surgery.
During the operation, the new heart valve was carried on a tube that was passed through the chest wall directly into the heart, and then fitted inside the reopened old valve.
The surgeons say that this procedure is less invasive and less risky for certain patients.
This advance suggests that people who are too ill to undergo open-heart surgery may still get their worn out valve replaced.
According to the surgeons behind the breakthrough operation, patients into their 80s and 90s will be eligible for heart surgery using this technique.
While low risk patients will continue to have the open heart procedure, patients too ill for this will be considered for the transapical aortic valve replacement.
"We are very excited about what this could mean for patients at King's and other hospitals," the Telegraph quoted Olaf Wendler, Clinical Director for Cardiology and Cardiothoracic Surgery at King's, who carried out the surgery, as saying.
"Because patients undergoing repeat operations on the heart are twice as likely to suffer complications following surgery, many are not put forward again. The fact that the minimally invasive technique developed at King's has now been used successfully to replace a prosthetic heart valve is a major achievement, and could help to prolong and improve the lives of many patients in the UK," he added.
Wendler said that the average age of patients in the programme at King's was 80, and the oldest was 93.
He said: "The patients are often surprised that surgery can be considered. In these patients who are already quite old and often do not suffer from any other medical problems, if we correct this heart problem they will live longer than some people of the same age without the heart problem and that is amazing."
Ellen Mason, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This is really groundbreaking work as Mr Bott had already had his own heart valve replaced with a tissue one through open heart surgery and to be able to replace that one with a new one with keyhole methods is brilliant. We knew this kind of work would start to come and it will benefit many people in the long run."
Mason added: "We need to see how the first few hundred patients being done around the world do afterwards and eventually we may not do open heart surgery for this kind of valve replacement at all in the future. We are very positive about this work being done at King's."