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First Open Heart Surgery in Belize Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 19 July 2012 00:00

Dr. Adrian Coye performs open heart surgeryKarl Heusner Memorial Hospital’s Director of Medical Services, Dr. Adrian Coye, made history on Monday, July 16, when he performed the first open heart surgery in Belize.


Coye operated for four hours on a 73-year-old man who suffered from coronary artery disease. The surgery performed was a cervical revascularization. It is a milestone for Belize’s health system and a dream come true for a very talented cardiothoracic surgeon. Dr. Coye said, “This has always been what I wanted to do. My life’s ambition has been to come home and do these type of surgeries for my Belizean people.”

Dr. Coye always knew that heart surgeries would one day be performed in Belize. He had hoped that it could be done within the first five years of his return home. He did not factor in the generous support of friends of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. Many of the expensive machines and equipment needed for such surgeries were donated by international institutions. Dr. Francis Robicsek is the Chair Emeritus of the Department of Cardiovascular Thoracic Surgeries at the Carolinas Healthcare System and a pioneer in the practice. Through their international program, Dr. Robicsek was able to organize a team to travel to Belize to assist Dr. Coye, who was prepared to conduct Belize’s first heart surgery after being back in the country for little over 18 months. That team consisted of six specialists including Dr. Robert Stiegel, who is a highly regarded Cardio Thoracic Surgeon. Belize also organized a team to match at least one local medical practitioner with a peer from abroad. The fused team worked together throughout the preparation and execution of the successful surgery that was conducted by Dr. Coye.

Dr. Robicsek said, “Belize is lucky to have such a highly trained cardiothoracic specialist.” He said that there is a need for more training to establish a complete Belizean team but in the meantime, we should show great support to Dr. Coye because “he will need a lot of help from all Belizeans”. Dr. Coye’s focus is now on establishing that Belizean team. He believes it will take up to 2 years to establish. However, he hopes that Belizeans from abroad will want to come back home and be a part of the program and move up the time line. He said that there is also the possibility of establishing a public/private partnership in order to build a sustainable program.

A surgery such as the one conducted by Dr. Coye would cost around US$100,000 in the United States. That is because of the highly inflated cost of medical services there.  Dr. Coye said, “Since the massive capital investments have been done for us already as a gift (mostly by the Carolinas Health System), this surgery in Belize should cost no more than $10,000.” Dr. Coye said that the establishment of a department of cardiovascular thoracic surgeries will once again highlight what KHMH believes – that the quality of healthcare received should not depend on the amount of money possessed.

Dr. Coye conducted a second open heart surgery on Tuesday, July 17. A 56-year-old woman suffered from a severe mitral valve disease. It took 3 hours for Dr. Coye and the team to conduct a mitral valve replacement surgery. That surgery too was a success. Those were not Dr. Coye’s first open heart surgeries. He conducted similar surgeries while he was in Jamaica and in the United Kingdom. He wishes to thank his wife and children who have sacrificed the most as he traveled to refine his skills.

Cardiac disease continues to be the number one cause of death globally. According to Dr. Coye, 95% of the cases are coronary artery diseases and as much as a million patients undergo coronary artery bypass every year. Dr. Bernard Bulwer returned to Belize to be a part of the team that conducted Belize’s first open heart surgeries. He said the most important thing that the public should take from this breakthrough in Belize’s medical history is that these diseases are preventable. He said we can prevent heart diseases by living healthy lives in which we diet properly and exercise regularly. We can also identify possible heart diseases early by routine screening.  Coronary artery disease is not an old people disease. People in their 30s have had to undergo surgery for coronary artery diseases. It is the only surgery in which the heart and lungs are both shut down. Some say it is the only surgery in which everyone has to die for a chance at life.