THE cardiac team of the Roman Catholic Hospital (RCH) yesterday performed the first open-heart surgery in the hospital's cardiac theatre.
The heart of 26-year-old Verkior Ndeilenga was repaired during a two-hour operation in the high-tech cardiac theatre. The surgery was a success, according to doctors, and five more heart operations are scheduled for the next two weeks.
Sister Augusta Tunz admitted yesterday that the run-up to the surgery was "really exciting and very stressful". While the surgery was being performed, nurses and hospital staff gathered outside the cardiac unit, their excitement palpable.
"We never thought there would be a cardiac unit here. We are a small hospital. It's a very big achievement for us," Sister Hendriena Samuel said.
Dr Henning du Toit, Namibia's top cardiac surgeon, performed the Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) closure under the watchful eye of renowned cardiologist Professor Johan Rossouw.
The team was flanked by the hospital's newly trained cardiac theatre and ICU nurses and assistants, who received their training in South Africa during the past year.
Natalie Lovemountain, the perfusionist, was in charge of the heart-lung machine, which takes over the functions of a patient's heart and lungs during heart surgery.
The launch of the RCH private cardiac unit comes five months after the opening of the State's first cardiac unit at the Central State Hospital.
The medical fraternity is hopeful that a significant number of Namibian patients waiting for heart surgery can be moved from the waiting list and onto operating tables as soon as possible now that the country has two cardiac units.
Professor Rossouw, who has regularly visited Namibia for more than 30 years, said between 600 and 800 people in Namibia need cardiac surgery and the waiting list grows by at least 60 to 80 people every year.
"Now, with two cardiac units, we can do the operations in Namibia," he said.
For the time being, the cardiac team aims to perform at least three operations a week. It is hoped that in three years, with more doctors on board, the cardiac unit will be able to handle at least five patients a week.
The cost of an operation is between N$180 000 and N$220 000, inclusive of disposables, theatre and salaries, Rossouw said.
The majority of heart operations are done to correct valve defects or congenital defects, such as the hole repaired in Ndeilenga's heart yesterday.
Before the establishment of the cardiac unit at the Roman Catholic Hospital, private patients travelled to South Africa for operations.
Now, with Namibian medical aid funds on board, patients are spared the travel and accommodation costs. Another plus is that patients are "in their natural support environment" and not alone in a foreign country, Professor Rossouw said.
According to Professor Rossouw, research shows that a country needs one cardiac unit per 800 000 residents, which puts Namibia on target.
Other countries, including Angola, Zambia and Botswana, have depended on cardiac units in South Africa or Europe. Now, these countries who "also have a vast volume of patients on the waiting list" can send their patients to Namibia.
For now, Dr Du Toit is the only full-time local cardiologist, apart from Professor Rossouw who is advising the local team.
Dr Du Toit performs operations at both the State and the RCH cardiac units on separate days of the week.
Professor Rossouw says he will continue to assist and train the cardiac teams in Namibia for the time being.
Meanwhile, two Namibian doctors are completing their cardiac studies in South Africa, the first of whom is set to join the State cardiac team by next year.
Plans are also afoot to join forces with a South African cardiac team who could base themselves in Namibia for three months at a time and assist the local team.