UCH did not perform the first open heart surgery in Nigeria – Dr. Awojobi Oluyombo

In 2008, my teacher and mentor, Prof SA Adebonojo, the pioneer cardiac surgeon at the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan in whose unit I started my residency in 1978, delivered a guest lecture at the 48th annual conference of the West African College of Surgeons titled Development of Open Heart Surgery in West Africa: A Historical Perspective. I was privileged to publish the lecture in 2012.

Prof Adebonojo has given me the permission to put the monogram on the web so as to correct the misinformation in the recent media report. This I have done here.

The outbreak of the Biafra war in 1967 dispersed the cardiothoracic surgical team at UCH, Ibadan and Professor Fabian Udekwu left to establish the cardiothoracic team at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu. He was joined by Professors David Nwafor, HumphreyAnyanwu, and EHC Ihenacho in the department of cardiology.

Professor Fabian Udekwu was a man of vision, mission and determination. As the first fully trained cardiothoracic surgeon in Nigeria, certified by the American Board of Surgery as well as the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, he was competent and ready for what it would take to achieve his mission. He visited the United Kingdom many times to understudy the latest techniques under Sir Magdi Yacoub, a renowned cardiac surgeon in the United Kingdom (UK) and to solicit his assistance for their first open heart surgery at UNTH.

After an extensive preparation, training and assembly of his team, the first open heart surgery was performed at the UNTH, Enugu in January 1974 by Sir Magdi Yacoub from UK, Professors Udekwu, CH Anyanwu, DC Nwafo, BU Umeh, EO Okoroma, HNC Ihenacho, CC Okechukwu and other colleagues. This was followed by 6 other cases.

3 of the 7 patients operated upon between 1974 and 1980 died for an operative mortality of 42.9 per cent (personal communication). By 2000, over 102 cardiac procedures had been performed at UNTH.

Prof S A Adebonojo, a cardiothoracic surgeon, returned to Nigeria in April 1974 with an appointment as lecturer in cardiothoracic surgery at the UCH, to join Professor Grillo in the cardiothoracic unit. We were later joined by Drs. Olu Osinowo and ‘Wole Adebo in the unit.

On December 19, 1978, the first open heart surgery was performed at UCH by a team of Nigerian cardiac surgeons that included Professor Isaac Grillo, Drs Samuel Adebonojo, Olu Osinowo and ’Wole Adebo. The anaesthesiologists were Drs Funsho Akinyemi, and Ekundayo Famewo. The perfusionist was Mr. Osanyituyin and Mrs. Omotosho was one of the operating room nurses.

The UCH procedure was the first open heart surgery performed by a team of ALL Nigerian cardiac surgeons, nurses, perfusionist, anaesthesiologists without on-site assistant from abroad. The patient died intraoperatively due to incorrect preoperative diagnosis of ASD that turned out to be a Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR).

The second operation on September 18 1979 was our first successful open heart procedure performed by the same group of Nigerian cardiac surgeons and anaesthesiologists at UCH, Ibadan. Five open heart procedures were performed between 1978 and 1982.

However, the tremendous strain on hospital resources and deteriorating infrastructure, the political atmosphere and military interventions in the country put a big damper on our efforts.


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