Harefield Hospital expertise on display as doors open to record number of visitors

Harefield Hospital’s cardio-thoracic theatres and catheter labs welcomed over 450 members of the public, patients and staff as part of its recent open day.

Intubating a pig’s lungs and performing simulated mitral valve surgery with 3D glasses were among the range of activities on offer and, for the first time, the hospital’s catheter labs were also open to the public. Visitors gained an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the innovative techniques and ground-breaking technology used by teams at the hospital. 

Experts in surgical and theatre practice gave interactive demonstrations on a variety of the procedures, including:

  • the ground-breaking Organ Care System, a method of storing and transporting donor hearts for transplantation which Harefield was the first transDissecting a pig's heartplant centre in the UK to adopt
  • cardio-pulmonary bypass machines, special machines that temporarily do the work of a patients’ heart and lungs while they undergo surgery
  • vein harvesting to treat coronary artery disease
  • minimally invasive heart valve replacement techniques.

In the catheter labs a mannequin provided by BBC’s Holby City was on hand to help staff demonstrate procedures like angioplasty, used to widen blocked or narrowed coronary arteries, and angiogram, an X-ray test that uses a special dye and camera to take pictures of the blood flow in an artery. Visitors also learnt about transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI), a non-surgical alternative to open heart surgery. Harefield’s catheter labs carry out approximately 200 TAVI procedures a year for adults in need of an aortic valve replacement who are not well enough to have heart valve surgery.

The open day gave the public, including local schoolchildren, the opportunity to hear about and try their hand at different components of heart and lung surgery. They were able to dissect a heart valve, look down airways via a bronchoscope and learn about some of the innovative treatment options available at Harefield such as endoscopic vein harvesting (EVH), a minimally invasive technique used to remove blood vessels in the treatment of coronary heart disease. Compared to more traditional methods, EVH minimises infection, reduce pain and shorten hospital stays. Staff also spoke about ex vivo lung perfusion (EVL), a preservation technique used to assess donor lungs for suitability and to optimise organ donation.

Ken Ali, senior chief cardiac physiologist in catheter labs, said: “Educating people gives them the understanding to make better, more informed decisions about their healthcare. Everyone in the department has really embraced that ethos and it’s great to see all our hard work come together.”

Theatre manager Clair Mullins added: “We were thrilled to show our expertise to the public. Technology and the way we operate is changing so much, and it’s great to be able to let people see how surgical interventions are improving care for patients.”

Former Harefield patients were also on site to share stories of their treatment and meet the teams who treated them. Nick Jennings, who was recently fitted with a ventricular assist device while he waits for a transplant, came along to get a better understanding of how theatres and cath labs operate. He said: “I’ve been in and out of cath labs a number of times now, so it’s great to be given the opportunity to learn about how they work.

“It has been wonderful to talk to the staff – everyone was so welcoming and enthusiastic and it’s an honour to hear them share their knowledge and expertise. It really is a sensational event.”