Tiny clip in his heart gets farmer back on his feet

UP BEAT: Normanby couple Glen and Shirley Williamson have plenty to smile about after a medical procedure put Glen back on his feet. 
UP BEAT: Normanby couple Glen and Shirley Williamson have plenty to smile about after a medical procedure put Glen back on his feet. 

Glen Williamson knows exactly how much his life is worth - he even has the receipt.

The Normanby farmer and former transport operator is the first New Zealander to undergo a revolutionary and costly procedure that attaches a clip on to a leaky heart valve.

Aimed at patients considered too risky for heart surgery, the device, which looks like a butterfly clip the size of a 20 cent piece, pulls together affected valve leaflets to prevent blood regurgitating.

However, the procedure is currently only available to the private sector and Williamson would like to see the "life-changing" operation publicly funded.

The 72-year-old, who stumped up $86,000 for the operation, said while he was able to lean on his bank manager, many others couldn't.

"There will be people throughout the community who will have a similar problem, either born with it or created through misfortune, who would be able to continue a working life if they got this operation," he said.

"Those people then wouldn't be bludging on society or on the taxpayer."

Williamson said once he and his wife, Shirley, knew what needed to be done they didn't hesitate.

"You can go and buy a new car or a motorbike, or whatever suits you, but it doesn't give you your health.

"Before it I was frustrated because I couldn't do the things I wanted to do."

Since a heart bypass in 1992 his health had deteriorated to the point that even a 300m walk felt like an uphill battle.

He struggled to breathe, his legs had turned purple and he was "restricted" around the house.

But two days after the operation he was back on his feet and walking the same distance with ease.

"I felt so relaxed and free in the chest - I staggered myself."

A team of three Waikato interventional cardiologists and other leading specialists carried out the inaugural procedure at Hamilton's Braemar Hospital.

Cardiac nurse Kath Phillips, who has been in the business for 44 years, said Williamson's transformation made her cry.

"He was walking around so much he said his hips were sore," she said.

Dr Rajesh Nair, who led the team, said the success of the first MitraClip procedure was a major milestone for heart patients, and offered hope for those with heart valve disease.

Williamson said his wife finally had her husband back.

As soon as his "release conditions" were up he would be out and about and enjoying life.

The National Health Committee is consulting on whether the procedure should be publicly funded. The consultation is open until April 28.

Taranaki Daily News