World’s most successful mitral valve repair surgeon to teach his technique in the US

Open-heart mitral valve repair on dogs is a tricky procedure at best, and the usual success rate is 60% to 75%, depending on the dog’s size, age, heart status, and overall health at the time of surgery.

Japanese cardiologist Masami Uechi, DVM, can boast a success rate of 90%.

Now the University of Florida (UF) College of Veterinary Medicine is bringing Uechi and his surgical team to the United States to launch a groundbreaking mitral valve open-heart surgery program for dogs to treat the ravages of degenerative mitral valve disease (MVD), or endocardiosis.

MVD is the most commonly diagnosed cardiovascular disease in dogs and accounts for more than 70% of canine heart disease. MVD has a genetic component and some breeds are more susceptible than others, including smaller and toy breeds. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are particularly at risk, with as many as 90% developing MVD by age 10.

Uechi has performed the surgery on approximately 700 dogs in the last 12 years.

Up until now, the only two places a dog could have the procedure performed by Uechi were in Japan and at one hospital in France, where hundreds of desperate pet owners have ponied up as much as $40,000 to have Uechi and his team flown in to perform the seven-and-a-half-hour surgery.

To find out more, NEWStat talked to Simon Swift, MA, VetMB, CertSAC, DECVIM-CA (Cardiology), MRCVS, a clinical associate professor of cardiology at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. Swift is also medical director of the school’s small animal hospital and the man responsible for convincing Uechi to bring both his surgical team and his surgical expertise to Florida.

NEWSTAT: Is there anything proprietary about Dr. Uechi’s procedure? What he get right that nobody else did?

Simon Swift: Great question that we don’t have a good answer for. The technique is well described and commonly used [for] people. One of the critical features is the team he has assembled and worked with over the last six to eight years. They do so many [surgeries] now that they really work as a team and anticipate problems before they develop.

NEWSTAT: Will Uechi be teaching the procedure to UF staff?

SS: Yes, we want him and his team to train a UF team so that we would be able to perform the technique. Long term, we hope that UF will become a training center for mitral valve repair.

NEWStat: How can other veterinarians around the country learn the procedure?

SS: At this early stage, UF faculty will be learning the various roles of the team. Once we become proficient, we will teach other veterinarians to perform the surgery.

NEWStat: To what do you attribute Dr. Uechi’s astonishing 90% success rate, given that it’s so much higher than the average success rate of such surgeries?

SS: He is clearly a very skilled cardiac surgeon, but it is also the team that he has assembled around him to perform the procedure, which is why it is so important that the whole team come to Florida.

NEWStat: How did UF convince him to partner with you?

SS: I have known Dr. Uechi for several years and asked him to visit UF early last year. When he came, I was able to show him the amazing facilities we have here and he was able to meet my colleagues . . . who are very enthusiastic about this project.

NEWStat:What will the surgery cost?

SS: We don’t have an exact figure, but when Dr. Uechi went to Paris to do the surgery, the cost was $42,000. It’s likely to be similar.

The UF program will be the first of its kind in the US and is expected to roll out sometime this year.

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