Retiree Chiang Khee Yan counts himself a lucky man.

The 71-year-old former factory production manager was one of the National Heart Centre's (NHC) first heart patients to have a Biomatrix stent implanted in February, which is the latest in the market.

Drug-eluting stents are small tube-shaped wire meshes that are used to prop open blocked arteries in the heart, restoring blood flow. They are coated with immune-suppressive medication that inhibits scar tissue from forming and causing blockages in the stents.

Stent treatments has come a long way since the advent of bare metal stents without drugs in 1986. Since then, there has been research into new drugs which suppress scar tissue more effectively.

The NHC, which has recently celebrated its 10th Anniversary, has been on the cutting edge of cardiovascular medicine such as stenting by facilitating research and participating in clinical trials.

An NHC spokesman said that it aspires to deliver affordable state-of-the-art clinical services. Their efforts and technology have improved the lives of thousands of patients like Mr Chiang.

Mr Chiang has been suffering from high blood pressure for over 30 years. He first learnt of his condition in his late 30s, when he sought treatment after he fainted and rolled down the slope at Mount Faber after a run.

Since then, Mr Chiang has been on medication to lower his blood pressure, and prior to his operation, suffered from chest pains and shortness of breath.

In late February, he was alarmed when his heart started beating rapidly, and irregularly. His blood pressure was dangerously high and his doctor referred him to the NHC immediately.

The NHC doctors found major blockages in three arteries, one of which was almost completely blocked. Mr Chiang subsequently underwent two stent implants following angioplasty - a process of inserting a catheter into a heart artery and inflating a tiny balloon to open a blocked artery.

Mr Chiang, who was conscious and under local anaesthesia during the entire angioplasty and impant procedure, said the process was surprisingly painless.

"I was nervous initially during the operation. I thought I might feel the pain, but it wasn't painful at all. I could even watch the entire operation on the screens above the operating table," he recalled.

Mr Chiang was discharged the next day and to date, reports none of his previous symptoms.

Though stents help, re-narrowing of the artery does occur over time. And there are risks.

Associate Professor Koh Tian Hai, medical director of the NHC, estimates that less than one per cent of stent patients develop blood clots on the implants - which could result in heart attacks.

But the outlook is rosy for Mr Chiang - he already plans to travel to China to climb Mount Taishan with his wife, once given the all-clear by his doctors.


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