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Jul 18, 2012

Belize’s 1st successful open heart surgeries done at the K.H.M.H.

This week marks a milestone for the medical field in Belize; the first two successful open heart surgeries were carried out at the K.H.M.H. This medical procedure is available in a limited number of countries so for Belize, it’s major news, particularly for patients afflicted with ailments including defective heart valves, or heart muscle blockages. This singular achievement took concerted efforts, including those of the Bowen and Bissell families, who along with foreign specialists and local doctors brought in a “cath lab” to Belize back in 2011.  To celebrate, the K.H.M.H. called a press conference on this major feat. News Five’s Andrea Polanco was there.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Dr. Adrian Coye, Belizean cardio thoracic surgeon, performed the first two open heart surgeries at the K.H.M.H. on Monday and Tuesday.  The surgery, which would normally cost around at least one hundred thousand U.S dollars, will soon be available at the K.H.M.H. at a much affordable cost. The hospital secured a cardiac catheterization lab last year through Coye’s efforts partnering with international medical teams. Coye says it marks a historic moment for the institution and Belize.


Adrian Coye

Dr. Adrian Coye, Thoracic Surgeon, K.H.M.H.

“First of all it’s not available in most countries in the world, so Belize is very special in that it has started that journey. An open heart surgery has maybe a sixty year history where in the past, Francis himself was a pioneer, he would build his own machine and carry it in the back of the vehicle and go from hospital to hospital and the machine, which we call the heart lung machine is the back bone of the technology to allow us to do what we call open heart surgery. What I did on Monday is virtually impossible because I met these folks to work in ninety-four degrees temperature to do a case that we know that had to be done and anywhere else they would’ve just cancelled the case. Yes, we rose to the challenge and what I did was what I was trained to do. It was fairly straight forward but what was difficult was to reach that point. We know it’s expensive but there are other ways and short cuts that can be done more cost effectively. The bottom line is that you can give back someone the quality of their life and they can live longer and be contributing members of society.”


To access that procedure, the K.H.M.H. team had been conducting screening for the past two years. Two persons, listed as moderate risk patients, a seventy-three and fifty six year old underwent the open heart surgery which required one or more incisions made on the chest to access the heart.  The first surgery was four hours long and the second one took three hours, along with a team of about twelve to sixteen medics. The cardiac surgeries were successful.


Dr. Adrian Coye,

“We did the first patient, was a coronary by-pass grafting or as we say in colloquial terms, cabbage; and I did a three vessel by-pass graft for that patient and  he had the narrowing of blood vessels that fed the heart muscles. Now, it means that if he wanted to walk up the steps, or go for a walk, he has angina; chest pains and he can’t go to work. He is seventy two and complains that he can’t be working because everywhere he goes he has pain in his chest. The second patient that we did had a mitrol valve replacement because she had a background history of rheumatic heart disease; her valve became very tight over time and also regurgitant that means it doesn’t close very fully and that caused severe changes. In fact she was living in the Lion’s Club for the last two  being so afraid to go home because of the shortness of breath symptomatic all hours of the night and she desperately needed to have her surgery done.”


The surgeries were done through the assistance of specialists from North Carolina, including, Dr. Francis Robicsek and eight other team members.


Francis Robicsek

Dr. Francis Robicsek, Chair Emeritus, Dept. Cardio Vascular Thoracic Surgeries

“I want to reiterate that this whole thing started with Barry Bowen and ended up with Dr. Coye. I shouldn’t say ended up because as he said, this is just the beginning. It’s not only the beginning of Cardiac surgery but it’s the beginning and continuation of our friendship. We are extremely proud of him and it was an honour for us to participate and thank you for letting us be here.”


Robert Stiegel, Cardio Thoracic Surgeon

Robert Stiegel

“This has been quite a journey and we certainly appreciate the opportunity to participate in this. The folks that came with me volunteered their time and energy and resources to come down here with us to do this and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart and Darren, thank you. It was well-worth it.”


With the increase in coronary artery and rheumatic diseases, Dr. Coye says that they can now do much for those patients.


Dr. Adrian Coye

“There are lots of Belizeans with coronary artery disease; you hear about young professionals in their forties dropping down and dying from a massive heart attack, now that is treatable and that is what we are trying to get at. The fact is that they are treatable conditions. We have patients in their twenties who die from Rheumatic heart disease who die at a young age again from the valves that change and open heart surgery can deal with those issues.”



Dr. Bernard Bulwer, who is now an associate professor at a U.S medical school, and former director of medical services at the K.H.M.H., says that the giant effort of Dr. Coye and all partners, made what seemed like the impossible, possible.


Bernard Bulwer

Dr. Bernard Bulwer, Former D.M.S., K.H.M.H./Professor, Cardiovascular

“Dr. Coye did, in my opinion, one of the craziest things. Less than two years ago he came back to Belize to start cardiac surgery, when at that time we did not even have a cardiology, a proper cardiology service. We did not have the kind of eco-cardiography support which was reliable. We did not have a cardiac catheterization laboratory. So how can you even talk about doing cardiac surgery? There was opposition to the cardiac cath lab coming here and I don’t know if we say these words in the media but I said, hell no. It came and then the rest started falling into place. I am totally grateful and I make it public, Dr. Coye who is an officer and a gentleman and quite docile, he teared up last night and that’s an understatement, because we saw people right in front of our eyes, a particular patient died simply because we did not have the tools in place to save that that woman’s life.”


Since the start of K.H.M.H.’s cardiac program, fifty two patients have received coronary angiography; x-ray images to show the insides of the coronary arteries. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


According to Dr. Adrian Coye, heart patients will be evaluated and surgery will be scheduled based on urgency and the availability of the U.S. team. 

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8 Responses for “Belize’s 1st successful open heart surgeries done at the K.H.M.H.”

  1. Storm says:

    I am very thankful to all of the people who worked together to bring this important medical advance to the Jewel. It’s a victory for the people of Belize, and I hope they will join me in a prayer of thanks for those people who made it happen.

  2. Maria Marshall says:

    Wonderful news coming from the KHMH it has made my day. Excellent news. Many thanks to all concerned.

  3. Rod says:

    This is scary to me.

  4. Celiabz says:

    This indeed is wonderful news and a great leap for our country. I do hope that our potential doctors return home and provide the public with the proper medical care we are in dire need of. HATS OFF to Dr. Adrian Coye!

  5. Rita says:

    i am so happy for this achievement in belize’s medical history! I am a survivor of open heart surgery since 1977 done in Jamaica! To know it can be done in belize is indeed wonderful! Thanks to Doctors Bulwer,Coye, the team and most of all God! Go KHMH!

  6. Retired CEO says:

    This is a very important achievement not only for the Doctors involved and the medical field, it is giant step for all Belizeans. Congrats to KMHH and all those involved in this huge task.

  7. Fausto Cabanas says:

    Dr. Coye and Team:
    Words cannot express how much we appreciate the opportunity of life you gave to my wife Magdalene. Some three months ago when she was diagnosed with heart disease and the US$20,000.00 surgery in Guatemala City to save her life, we were devastated. My wife looked at me and said,”I guess I have to tell goodbye to this world.” We met Dr. Coye and he revived our hope. Today four days after the surgery I can testify of a miracle performed by God through the hands of Dr. Coye. My wife might be able to return home by Monday 23rd. Thanks Dr. Coye.

  8. John Mencias says:

    This certainly puts Dr. Coyi as one of the very top choices for Belize’s Person of the Year 2012. Congratulations on this very, very important achievement.

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