Belgian heart surgeon delivers world first


In October 2017, the Belgian surgeon Alaaddin Yilmaz delivered a world first in heart surgery. He was the first to replace a heart valve using simple keyhole surgery. This groundbreaking technique could help many heart patients.

Relatively straightforward heart procedures like a bypass surgery can be performed via an incision in the groin area. More complex operations like replacing a heart valve had to be done via open-heart surgery, by cutting through the sternum with a saw and opening up the chest cavity to gain access to the heart. The downsides of this procedure are a higher risk of infection, a longer recovery period for patients and a chance of lingering chest pain. Furthermore, there are older patients for whom the procedure is too demanding, ultimately meaning nothing more can be done for them. That will change from now on.

Mr Alaaddin Yilmaz developed this new technique himself and with the industry's help he was able to design instruments small enough to make this laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) possible. The new artificial heart valve is put in place via a two-centimetre incision between two ribs and two additional smaller incisions. The technology used is more expensive than that of a classic open-heart procedure, but it takes less time and avoids major blood loss, resulting in almost identical costs. Furthermore, patients can leave hospital after only a few days and according to Yilmaz the incision sites heal as fast as a finger cut.

Yilmaz is of Turkish origin, but got his medical degree at Ghent University. He now works at the Jessa Hospital in Hasselt, where he has been developing this new technique since 2005. He has over 6,000 heart procedures and 2,000 lung procedures to his name. Several of his operations have been recorded or broadcasted live in order for him to share his knowledge with colleagues. His groundbreaking keyhole procedures have been attended in Hasselt by Australian doctors and he was recently invited by the sheik in Dubai, who plans to build a centre for cardiology of the highest standard.