Doctors at Waikato Hospital were this morning performing the first heart operation of its type in a New Zealand public hospital.
The transcatheter aortic valve implementation on a 79-year-old Tauranga woman will be the first of four planned at the hospital over two days.
Over 120 people a year are admitted to Waikato Hospital with aortic stenosis, a condition where the main outflow valve from the heart thickens and does not open fully.
Waikato District Health Board spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill said today conventional aortic valve replacement by open-heart surgery remained the procedure of choice, but required a general anaesthetic, long recovery time and was not an option for about 50 per cent of patients.
Those patients generally had medical conditions making the surgery too dangerous.
Ms Gill said the new operation involved replacement of the valve via the leg, inserting a new valve inside the old aortic valve, with patients only requiring a local anaesthetic, and recovery time being much shorter.
With aortic stenosis, all the blood leaving the heart had to go through the main outflow valve and severe narrowing of the valve causes restricted blood flow to the rest of the body.
That put a strain on the heart and eventually causes breathlessness, chest pain, blackouts and heart failure.
Ms Gill said that once patients noticed symptoms, about 50 per cent with aortic stenosis died within two years.
Only about 2000 transcatheter aortic valve implementations had occurred worldwide - all in the northern hemisphere.
Ms Gill said the operations taking place today and tomorrow were made possible by the Waikato Heart Trust and an individual who gifted over $300,000 for the valves.
She said Waikato Hospital's Dr Sanjeevan Pasupati one of a few cardiologists in the world with experience in the procedure, would join with his Hamilton colleague Dr Gerry Devlin for the operations.
Dr Jean-Claude Laborde, one of the inventors of the CoreValve used, would supervise.
Ms Gill said DHB was to prepare a business case for the Ministry of Health so the operations could continue in the public sector.