Wednesday 15th September, 2021, at 6.43pm, history was made in our UCTH, when the first ever open heart surgery was performed in our hospital and the patient safely wheeled out to our Intensive Care Unit. She had recieved a Mitral valve replacement following about Six & a half hours of Surgery. This has been the culmination of 2 years of hardwork, determination, sacrifice, vision and focus at different levels of our hospital. And we must offer sincere gratitude to God & all who worked to make this happen. It is the guiding principle of this Management to work quietly to achieve the Vision & Mission of our hospital and reposition her appropriately in the comity of Tertiary Health Institutions in Nigeria. We have driven this agenda by focusing steadily on the 3R mantra & refusing to be distracted. In the words of Obol Ofem Enang to me always, “You were a footballer. Ignore the footwork(distractions), & focus on the ball”. But this time, quietness is not the way to go. We must appreciate all staff who made this happen openly.
The MOU for Open Heart Surgery Missions was signed with the VOOM Foundation sometime in 2015/16. Things went quiet until the MOU was reviewed with the Foundation in July/August 2019 and UCTH made a commitment to actualize the programme & domesticate open heart surgery in our hospital. After 2 years of sacrificial hardwork, doggedness, critical planning and determination against many odds, here we are today. We have had to construct a new Theatre Suite using in-house Engineering and Technical teams, we had to create a multidisciplinary Heart Surgery Team; we had to clear 2Nos 40ft containers from Onne Port, Port Harcourt & invest in equipment worth millions of Naira (Heart-Lung machine, Heater-Cooler interexchangersystem, Cell savers, High end Anaesthetic Machine, high end monitors, Defibrillator with Internal pads, Ventilators, digital mobile xray system, etc). Hours of work went into this project. Professional fathers like Prof O.O. Bassey & Prof C.O.Odigwe came out at short notice & odd hours. When as Management, we showed signs of upset or despair, they held our arms and firmly but gently insisted we must never look back. Today, we are there, & for them & to their eternal recognition, the prophesy has been fulfilled.
As far as I know, we are the first Tertiary Health Institution in South-South Nigeria to accomplish this, & join a group of very few elite centres nationwide. And at this early stage, we are offering these surgeries at 30% of their actual cost. This programme therefore does not belong to any individual or Administration, it belongs to UCTH and can only be sustained when we choose to be a TEAM. Our commitment is that as we resuscitate basic services, we will strive to introduce higher end services that will define our existence as a Tertiary centre & contribute to the well-being of our people and community. As resources permit, we will continue to work with Departments & Units that demonstrate a hunger for growth. We may not have always gotten it right, sometimes we have faltered, but we are determined to stay the course, under God, and work to develop this UCTH, our UCTH.
2021 has been a difficult year for us. Like most other institutions, communities & even nations, UCTH has struggled & remains afloat only by the grace & mercy of God and the dogged determination of her patriotic staff. Today’s feat must therefore be seen as just reward for your labours of love & patriotism to our hospital and nation. We salute you.
On behalf of Management, I wish to express sincere gratitude to everyone who made this happen. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Honourable Minister of Health and the Federal Ministry of Health who granted approval with insistence on skills transfer. Our surgeons led this effort actively & some team members came from across the country. We thank the Board Chairman (we couldn’t ask for any better Chairman) and the Governing Board for giving us the “wings to fly”. To the Cardiothoracic Unit & the Heart Surgery Team led by Prof Etiuma, this is your finest hour, and you have every right to bask in the glory of the moment. To the Department of Surgery & all the senior Professors & Surgeons therein, the mother Lion is finally seeing her cubs begin to form their pride. We appreciate you. To the Departments of Anaesthesia, Internal Medicine & Paediatrics (Cardiology Units), you can only take us higher. Thank you for understanding & maturity, for the scriptures say “Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it” (Prov 16:22).To the hospital community, the field is ripe & we are willing to lead this charge to glory. The days when the community ridiculed you are coming to an end. But you must create the attitude that permits & engraces us take the moment. “This is our time.” To the VOOM Foundation, our worthy partners in this walk through a previously uncharted course for UCTH, thank you for keeping faith despite our many weaknesses. To every member of the Management team, impossibility does not exist & there are still territories to conquer & uncharted waters to navigate & lay Compass points. Above all, to God Almighty, our rock in ages past & hope in the years to come, in gratitude & humility O Father, we pray that your glory will never depart from your UCTH. May the road always rise to meet us & your wind be beneath our sail.
There is still a lot of work to be done to fully domesticate the procedure. We look forward to the day it will be a routine procedure by an all UCTH team. That is the work that lies ahead. But we have “set sail at dawn” and there will be no looking back. Together we move & set sail to higher plains.
Thank you & Godspeed.
Ikpeme A Ikpeme
Professor of Orthopaedics
(Joint Replacement Services)
8th CMD & CEO
15th September, 2021.