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22nd May 2018

From hospital bed to top of the world

When Peter Robinson was diagnosed with a faulty heart valve, he was told he had little chance of survival.

Normally a very active 60-year-old, Peter knew something was wrong when he could barely walk a few steps without stopping to catch his breath. “At first I put it down to asthma because the weather was really cold and I was working near a construction site,” he tells This Is MedTech. But when things continued to deteriorate, he sought medical help.

It was only after seeing several doctors that Peter was admitted to the local hospital, where he eventually had an echocardiogram, which provided ultrasound images of his heart. This flagged up a problem but Peter was told that it could probably be treated with drugs. Several months passed while he waited to see a consultant cardiologist, but in April 2017 he was rushed back to the local hospital where further tests including an electrocardiogram confirmed that he had a very serious heart problem. “My heart was working at 30% efficiency and was fading fast,” he says, adding that he was given little hope of survival.

That was until he transferred to St Thomas’s Hospital in London and met heart surgeon Mr Michael Sabetai. “He brought me a cup of tea, sat down and said: ‘You are in a really dark place, but I’m going to fix it,’” recalls Peter.

“Peter had severe aortic stenosis, which led to heart failure,” Michael explains. “The valve has leaflets which are normally very thin, but Peter’s had become thick and weren’t opening at all. The pumping capability of his heart was failing.” After discussing the options for a heart valve replacement – either a mechanical valve made of carbon with an indefinite life span but requiring Peter to take blood thinning medications for the rest of his life or a new type of bovine tissue valve with an expected life span of around 20 years – Peter decided to go with the second option.

“Because of an innovative tissue processing method, this valve had one-third less deterioration than the ‘gold standard’ tissue valves being used up to that point. Peter was only the second or third person worldwide, and the second in the UK, to have it implanted,” says Michael. The valve replacement surgery took place in May 2017 and Peter hasn’t looked back.

By August he’d returned to work in a thermo-fluids laboratory. In his free time he enjoys what he refers to as “pushing the envelope” by taking part in increasingly exciting challenges to support charities including Heart Valve Voice and the British Heart Foundation.

The first challenge he faced, just nine weeks after the procedure, was walking three miles around Rye Nature Reserve in East Sussex and then later that afternoon climbing all 100 steps up St Mary’s church in the town. A few months later he walked across the top of London’s O2 building at a height of 52 metres above ground, along with Michael and Heart Valve Voice CEO Wil Woan. “The O2 climb was a rare and valuable opportunity to see how people get on with their lives. In my job, you only tend to find about the failures, but not the successes. And 98.5% are successes,” notes Michael.

Peter’s also got some other challenges under his belt. He climbs up anything he can with steps, including all 199 steps from Whitby town to Whitby Abbey. He’s also just completed a 20km walk along the Thames river and later this year he hopes to tackle the Monument in the City of London and a zip wire adventure. He’s upping the ante next year with a sky dive – which Michael is hoping to do with him – and a 100km walk from Brighton to London.

Commenting on his new lease of life, Peter says: “You’ve got to fight for everything. You’ve got to enjoy life. And if I can pay back by doing these challenges, why not? Just watch this space!”

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