Cape Town - A groundbreaking operation was performed by doctors at the Panorama MediClinic during the world’s first non-surgical closure of a leaking heart valve on a 59-year-old Cape Town patient.

Marianna Cronjé suffered from dextrocardia with situs inversus, a medical condition where a person is born with his or her heart transposed in a mirror image of what is considered to be anatomically normal – on the right side of his or her chest.

“This procedure is technically extremely difficult in a patient with normal anatomy, and has never been done before on someone with dextrocardia,” says Dr Hellmuth Weich, the cardiologist who performed it.

Weich was assisted by two world experts flown from Lausanne, Switzerland, specifically for the case.

As a result of rheumatic fever at a young age, Cronjé, from Stellenbosch, underwent four open heart operations over a period of 40 years.

Her last valve replacement was done successfully in 2000, but, owing to scar tissue and other problems, it was considered her last operation.

When this valve developed a leak, she had no surgical options, and her condition deteriorated gradually to the point where she could do nothing for herself.

However, she was referred to Weich, who practises at the Panorama MediClinic and has ties with both Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital, as a candidate for the non-surgical procedure.

According to the hospital, the entire procedure was performed through a needle puncture in Cronjé’s groin.

A tube was fed through a vein up into the right heart, and then a hole had to be made in the wall of the heart to get across to the left heart.

The leak in the mitral valve had to be crossed, and was then closed with two disc-like devices that are actually intended for closing birth defects in children’s hearts.

“The six-hour procedure went well, thanks to an excellent team of medical professionals. Mrs Cronjé is making a slow recovery in hospital,” Weich said.

He added that, although the procedure was successful, her condition was poor prior to the surgery, and recovery may take a month or more. - Cape Argus