Leeds Children’s Hospital heart surgeons have successfully performed two groundbreaking surgeries using an innovative procedure for the treatment of Scimitar Syndrome. This surgical technique, known as the ‘Lugones’ procedure, has never been performed before in the UK and offers a promising solution for patients with this rare congenital condition.

Scimitar Syndrome is characterised by an abnormal connection between a vein from the right lung and the heart, leading to the redirection of oxygenated blood to the wrong side of the heart. Over time, this can cause an overload and enlargement of the right side of the heart, potentially leading to heart failure.

Developed by Dr Ignacio Lugones in Argentina, the Lugones procedure utilises the heart’s own lining to redirect the blood to the correct (left) side of the heart. Unlike the traditional method that involves creating a long artificial tunnel between the abnormal vein and the heart, the Lugones procedure offers a more direct route using the body’s own tissue. This reduces the risk of narrowing or blocking of the tunnel over time, which is a concern with the traditional approach.

Following the successful surgeries at Leeds Children’s Hospital, other medical centers in the UK have also started performing the Lugones procedure. The first two adult patients in the UK to undergo this innovative surgery are Vicky Waite, 43, from Tingley, and Emma Clements, 29, from Wetherby. Despite being adults, both patients receive treatment within the children’s hospital as they were born with congenital heart conditions.

Vicky, a full-time mother of two, was unaware of her heart condition until she experienced symptoms such as breathlessness and fatigue. Emma, a Special Educational Needs teacher, was diagnosed with Scimitar Syndrome at 19 but only recently required surgery due to the worsening of her condition. The impact of their heart conditions affected their daily lives and limited their physical activities.

Both patients may not have been eligible for surgical interventions using the traditional method due to the complexity of their conditions and the associated risks. While other surgical alternatives would have been temporary, the Lugones procedure offers the potential for a permanent fix, reducing the risk of heart failure and significantly enhancing the patients’ quality of life.

The surgeries, lasting between six and eight hours, were successful, and Vicky and Emma were discharged within a week. They are currently recovering well at home. Remarkably, just four weeks after the surgeries, Vicky reported feeling better than before the procedure. She experienced improved appetite, better sleep, and a follow-up scan revealed a significant reduction in the size of her enlarged right side of the heart.

Dr Ignacio Lugones, the pioneer of the Lugones procedure, is a Paediatric Congenital Cardiac Surgeon working at the Buenos Aires General Children’s Hospital in Argentina. Mr Pelella, a surgeon at Leeds Children’s Hospital, was introduced to Dr Lugones and his innovative technique during a surgical conference in Milan. Recognising its potential benefits for UK patients, Mr Pelella invited Dr Lugones to provide training and supervise the surgeries of the first two UK patients.

Mr Pelella expressed his satisfaction with the successful surgeries and the potential of the Lugones procedure to enhance patients’ lives. He emphasised that the anatomical defect can be corrected, reducing the risk of heart failure, alleviating fatigue, and allowing patients to lead full and active lives. Previously ineligible patients can now benefit from this procedure, which was considered too risky with other surgical interventions. Mr Pelella hopes that more patients in Leeds and across the UK can benefit from this groundbreaking procedure.

Emma, speaking four weeks after her surgery, expressed her gratitude to Dr Pelella and his team for their commitment in finding the best solution for her. Despite the novelty of the procedure, she felt at ease, thanks to the attentive care provided by Dr Pelella, who checked on her daily. Emma’s prospects for starting a family have improved significantly due to the surgery, as her heart is now better equipped to handle a pregnancy.

Vicky, reflecting on her experience, commended Mr Pelella’s expertise and appreciated Dr Lugones’ presence during the operation. She emphasised the supportive and friendly nature of both surgeons, which made her feel more comfortable. Vicky eagerly looks forward to engaging in normal activities without experiencing breathlessness or fatigue, such as going to the beach or playing football with her children.

Mr Colin Holton, Clinical Director at Leeds Children’s Hospital, expressed immense pride in the achievement of his team in introducing this innovative procedure to Leeds. He praised the hospital’s Congenital Cardiac Team for their commitment to pushing the boundaries of surgical interventions, ensuring that children and adults have access to world-class care in Leeds.

The surgeons at Leeds Children’s Hospital hope that other medical centres will adopt the Lugones procedure, thereby improving the outlook for numerous congenital cardiac patients throughout the UK. This groundbreaking surgical technique promises to bring significant benefits and advancements in the field of congenital heart conditions.