Advice from the Heart

“The best thing you can do for your heart is to stop smoking”, admonished Dr Abu Bakar b Mamat, the Resident Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at Pantai Hospital Ipoh. A newbie to Pantai and Ipoh but certainly no newbie to heart and lung surgery, Dr Abu Bakar has impeccable credentials with a track record of over 300 heart bypass surgeries behind him over an 8-year period and being part of the team on seven heart transplant operations at the Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) or the National Heart Institute where he spent six years, prior to a posting in Kota Kinabalu.

His move into private practice and to Ipoh was a breath of fresh air to this youthful-looking surgeon. “I love the ambiance and the laid back pace of Ipoh and I look forward to bringing the rest of my family here.” His first medical and subsequent Masters degree was in University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and a year spent in Toronto, Canada, saw him pursuing his special interest in Pediatric Heart Surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children called SickKids.

For measures to prevent coronary artery disease which may lead to heart attacks, in addition to quitting smoking, Dr Abu Bakar also warns against passive smoke which he claims is equally devastating and often ignored. Exercise is essential as is keeping cholesterol at normal levels.

Diabetics are particularly vulnerable and there have been cases where diabetics have had a series of heart attacks and not felt any symptoms until the heart is damaged beyond repair. This is because their nerves have been affected by diabetic neuropathy and their senses numbed.

According to Dr Abu Bakar, men have a higher risk of heart disease than women until they reach menopause at which time, the risk evens out. His advice for both genders is to check their cholesterol regularly, control blood sugar, blood pressure, exercise and adopt a diet that has less fat, less sugar and full of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Anyone experiencing symptoms like chest pain, or even discomfort and shortness of breath should go to their doctor. Non-invasive tests like the ECG (electrocardiogram), the Exercise Stress Test which involves walking on an electric treadmill while being hooked up to electrodes or the Echocardiogram which is one step higher in sophistication, will easily identify or eliminate the existence of heart disease.

Early intervention may reduce the risk of heart attacks or heart failure for those with known risk factors like high cholesterol, diabetes or a family history where either or both parents have had a heart attack or died from one. In fact, Dr Abu Bakar went on to elaborate, family history increases the chances of someone having a heart attack by four times and if that person smokes, by 10 times!

When asked if he’ll be carrying out any heart transplants in Ipoh, Dr Abu Bakar said, “They’ll have to go to IJN for that. While I have been trained and have participated in seven of these procedures, we don’t have the backup team and equipment here for an operation of such magnitude. Heart bypass surgery is another matter. That can be easily done here in Pantai Hospital itself.”

Of course, as a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Abu Bakar also performs surgery on the lungs for those with various lung afflictions which require surgical intervention. Having pointed his finger at smoking, both active and passive, as the main villain in heart disease, he also vilifies the habit in lung disease as well, particularly in cancer. He therefore urges all people to not smoke or quit if they do.

As he so poignantly puts it, “Heart attack not only attacks one heart, it attacks all those around you.” Now that’s an aphorism to ponder for all of us.

For more information: Clinic 308 Pantai Hospital Ipoh, Tel: 05 540 5418.

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