Heart disease is the leading single cause of death in Tasmania, fuelled by high rates of smoking, diabetes, obesity and sedentary behaviour.
It’s a big challenge to overcome, with the need for improved prevention, education and treatment, but one University of Tasmania alumnus is determined to help heal those already affected.
It’s been 16 years since Dr Heath Adams (BMedSci, MBBS 2009) stepped foot on the Sandy Bay campus to study medicine, driven by desire to help others and a healthy dose of ambition.
Like many talented Tasmanian teenagers, Dr Adams had the opportunity to study interstate.
“In hindsight, deciding to remain in Hobart and study at the University of Tasmania from a professional and personal standpoint was one the best decisions I ever made,” Dr Adams said.
He forged lifelong friendships, had family support while he studied, and his alma mater proved fruitful long after this graduation, when he won the Dr MG Ciezar Memorial Scholarship to travel to the UK to work and study at St Thomas Hospital, London.
The prestigious institution is a worldwide centre for excellence in a heart procedure called transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI). It allows an interventional cardiologist to replace a patient’s aortic valve with keyhole surgery, without the need for a general anaesthetic.
It has been shown to have superior results for the elderly with severe aortic stenosis, compared to traditional surgical aortic valve replacement.
Thanks to his scholarship, Dr Adams was able to perform more than 200 of these procedures and he has published two book chapters and nine peer-reviewed manuscripts in the field of valvular heart disease.
In addition, he won the best clinical case at the 2019 European structural heart disease conference.
The TAVI procedure is available to Australian patients, but Tasmanians must travel interstate for treatment.
Now that Dr Adams is returning to his home state to take up a position as an interventional and structural cardiologist at the Royal Hobart Hospital, he hopes to pioneer the use of this procedure in Tasmania.
“Travelling interstate for treatment is quite disruptive as patients can be frail with limited social supports. Furthermore, some patients decline treatment, as an interstate trip can become too much.
"With the support of the RHH Heart team and the Tasmanian Health Service I am hopeful to set up a local TAVI service. Being a home-grown doctor with international experience, I am in the perfect position to make this happen.”
Dr Adams clinical work and studies in the UK were supported by the Dr MG Ciezar Memorial Scholarship, which was made possible by a bequest to the University by the late Mrs Irene Ciezar.
It helps University of Tasmania medical graduates further their studies in cardiovascular medicine in the UK.
Picture credit: Chris Crerar