KOTA KINABALU: Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamed had never expected the country’s Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) or National Heart Institute to grow and develop into something that is looked up to by other countries in the region.
“Not only has IJN grown three-fold, it has also expanded to almost all states in the country with the exception of Perlis and Terengganu. IJN also has many firsts in Asia like this mechanized heart,” Mahathir told a press conference as he showed them the ‘heartware’, a mechanical device that is used to assist a failing heart.
He met reporters after delivering a keynote address for the 22nd Annual Congress of the Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Asia (ATCSA 2012) here yesterday.
Malaysia is now at a level where the country can compete with other countries in the aspect of heart and lung surgery, Mahathir said, adding, “Never did I envision that IJN would reach this level of development within 20 years.
“I had no idea of the kind of equipment they are going to introduce… for IJN to expand within 20 years to provide facilities for training doctors so that every state in Malaysia can have their own heart centre is something that was not expected .
“We thought that it would be confined to Kuala Lumpur,” he said and added that he underwent his first heart surgery in Malaysia.
“Because I said leadership by example so I had to agree to have the surgery here and be a role model for Malaysians. Next time, don’t be too hasty in making promises. Politicians like to make promises during campaign but find difficulty when it comes to fulfilling them,” he said.
In his keynote address earlier, Mahathir said that he pushed for the IJN to be set up after undergoing his first heart surgery about 20 years ago.
“I suffered a heart attack and after a checkup was told by my doctor that I had blocked arteries therefore I required surgery. I did not relish the thought of someone opening up my chest and playing with my heart but there was no way out of it.
“I needed surgery and nearly changed my mind when my doctor said that he would be using an electric saw to open my chest. I made a mistake when I became Prime Minister as I said that we must lead by example.
“So if I were to have the surgery done outside the country, I would not be leading by example. I had been offered to have the surgery in the United States but opted to have it done locally after the American surgeon who assisted and assured me that Malaysian surgeons are as competent as other surgeons in the world,” he said.
He went under the knife and woke up more than six hours later in the recovery room of the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital, Mahathir said, adding that while in recovery, he was told by his doctors that in actual fact the facilities in the hospital were inadequate and that he was lucky to survive.
“That was how I convinced the Cabinet to have the IJN which was built at a cost of RM280 million,” he said, adding that the demand for cardio surgery done locally increased after his successful operation in the KL General Hospital.
Mahathir said he underwent his second heart surgery at the new IJN and he had benefitted from the decision to build the heart centre.
When asked on what more can be done to improve the health care in Malaysia especially on cardiovascular diseases, Mahathir pointed out that firstly there is a need to increase the facility which the Government is doing.
Now almost every state has surgeons as well as operating theaters to perform heart surgery and that is progress in the field, he said.
“As some of these cases are very urgent, we need to take action very quickly. The Government of course needs to allocate more funds and to make available the sophisticated equipment that is being produced today. This equipment is making the surgery easier and less necessary,” he said, adding that some of the procedure now does not require a surgeon opening up the chest of a patient as it only requires the surgeon to make a hole, insert a probe and the surgery can be done that way.
“We can be proud because our skills and equipment are now on par with those found in developed countries and now we have innovations like the mechanical heart and our surgeons can perform heart and lung transplant.
“I am proud because in the past we only have normal operation theaters which are not suitable for heart operations. Now in IJN the theaters are designed specifically for thoracic surgery. Even in Sabah we have the equipment for thoracic surgery,” he said.
The other development for Malaysia, is that it is now able to train surgeons locally at IJN which is also the choice for many countries in the region to send their doctors to train.
Meanwhile ATCSA 2012 organising chairman who is also President Elect of the ATCSA Council, Professor Datuk Dr Mohammed Ezani Md Taib said that IJN performs 4,000 operations and 10,000 cardiology procedures a year. IJN which is the biggest cardiology centre in Asia also treats 130,000 outpatients annually.
“Now there is a queue of doctors from other countries to come and study in IJN. In fact, the delegation from Vietnam requested to expedite the acceptance of their trainees in order to make up for the lack of trained doctors in their country.
“So you can see that IJN has managed to obtain recognition as good training centre for doctors,” he said, adding that the training of new doctors in cardiology and surgery requires time and close supervision.