World Heart Day is on 29 September. Every year, we celebrate the life and healing of all the brave little warriors who have been victorious in their fight against heart illness and are inspired by their journeys of resilience and triumph. We also commend the dedicated staff of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, a Hospital managed by the Western Cape Government Health Department, who consistently provide world-class treatment to our precious children.

Associate Professor Rik De Decker leads the Catheterisation Laboratory at the Hospital. He and his team have developed world-first technology to teach vital techniques to treat heart disease. This month, we recognise the hard work and dedication that he and his team display.

Prof Rik De Dekker

Catheterisation Laboratories (Cath Labs) use catheter-based procedures to treat children who have common and complex cardiac, vascular renal and lung conditions. “The Cath Lab intervenes at three different stages of treating the most common heart defects. First is to monitor lung pressure before surgery; second is to look for and correct any residual defects after surgery and lastly, the most exciting, is when there has been no surgery, yet we can fix the problem”, says De Decker.

There are seven potentially fatal common heart lesions that are possibly correctable by interventional cardiac catheterisation. Part of the beauty of cath-ing (catheterisation) is that these can be fixed in a Cath Lab without surgery or intensive care and with only two nights in hospital. The Cath Lab conducts 23 different kinds of procedures, from pre-operative checks, repairs after surgery to procedures from scratch without needing surgery. However, it is separate from the surgical theatres. The Hospital is now making provision for a new hybrid Cath Lab, where the cath-ing team and surgeons can work seamlessly to make the process more efficient.

In Theatre

While interventional cardiology is widely practised as a specialisation in the developed world, it’s an under-developed skill in Africa. Cardiologists in Africa cannot easily access the knowledge required to specialise in cardiac catheterisation. To learn, they need to travel internationally, which is expensive and often only provides a narrow understanding of one sub-specialisation. Interventional cardiology is also a rapidly growing field, with developing technologies and new devices coming on to the market all the time. For these reasons, the Cath Lab team at the Hospital developed CATHCHAT as a solution to teach cardiologists the latest techniques and procedures.

Unique to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, CATHCHAT is a cutting-edge platform that enables cardiologists to learn and teach interventional catheterisation techniques in real-time from and to anywhere in the world.

How is this done?

The system was designed to be easily replicable at relatively low cost. It only requires digital cameras and sound, and an internet connection. Inside the Cath Lab, two X-ray machines (at the front and side of the patient), a cardiac ultrasound machine and haemodynamic pressure and ECG monitors, a video camera and a sensitive microphone transmit all internal and external data. A ‘producer’ monitors proceeding and facilitates the conversation between the online experts, audience and the theatre team. Patient privacy is essential, so the procedures are completely anonymised, and viewers cannot identify the patient at all.

In Theatre

CATHCHAT thereby enables cardiology teams from across Africa to learn from internationally renowned experts in the field.

“This is the only CATHCHAT in the world. We designed it specifically to build cath-ing capability in Africa. The system is showing results, too. Our capacity to perform complex and corrective procedures has grown significantly. We now hope to foster this ability in other Cath Labs in Africa”.

This innovative technology is helping to save young lives. If you would like to support The Children’s Hospital Trust, who fund such initiatives and helps advance child healthcare through the Hospital, please become a donor today.  

They live because you give.

Jacobus