Superglue in chest surgery cuts recovery time in half: study

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Cardiac surgeon Paul Fedak in a clinical trial at Calgary's Foothills Hospital Medical Centre.

Victor Haddad used Krazy Glue in his woodworking shop for years to mend his accidental wounds. Then last year, as he awaited a heart operation, he discovered on the Internet that a Calgary doctor was using a superglue to fuse bones together after chest surgeries.

The minute he read about the experimental procedure, he says, "I wanted it."

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He became a patient of Paul Fedak, a cardiac surgeon who pioneered the technique in 2009 at Calgary's Foothills Hospital Medical Centre. In June of this year, Dr. Fedak replaced Mr. Haddad's aortic valve and joined his sternum using steel wire, and then sealed the bones with a sticky paste called Kryptonite.

Mr. Haddad was out of the hospital in seven days. Within six weeks, the 59-year-old resident of Milk River, Alta., was back to work as a real-estate broker. Mr. Haddad didn't bother to fill his prescription for pain meds, he says. "I've been pain free since before I left hospital."

His surgery was standard except that Dr. Fedak took a few minutes to apply adhesive to the ends of the chest bones before stitching up the soft tissue. According to Dr. Fedak, breastbones heal much faster when secured with wire as well as Kryptonite glue.

Instead of it taking six to eight weeks for the bone to fuse back together, "we do it in 24 hours." The glue makes it rock solid within a day.

A study released Sunday suggests the use of adhesive in chest surgery reduces the normal recovery time by half. Patients have less physical disability in the first six weeks after surgery and can breathe deeply sooner, Dr. Fedak reports. He adds that patients are able to cough with less discomfort and require significantly less medication such as narcotics to manage pain.

No complications or side effects from the glue were reported among the 55 patients in the randomized controlled trial.

The procedure has the potential to improve post-operative care for an estimated 1.4 million open-chest surgeries performed worldwide each year, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Dr. Fedak has applied to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to fund a larger clinical trial involving 2,000 patients throughout North America, which should start in six months, he says.

Although medical adhesives are widely used in hip replacements and other procedures, most bone cements contain toxic ingredients that are dangerous for use in the chest, notes Dr. Fedak. In contrast, Kryptonite is an adhesive polymer composed of calcium carbonate and fatty acids derived from castor bean oil. It is "bio-compatible" and turns into a porous bonelike substance as it cures, he says.

Dr. Fedak doesn't recommend the adhesive for patients at high risk for internal bleeding and other complications after surgery, because doctors might need to re-enter the breastbone and the procedure would take longer if the breastbone is well-bonded. Otherwise, he says, "you could use this on almost any patient."

Regulators in Canada and the United States have approved the use of Kryptonite, which is made by the Doctors Research Group in the United States.

The glue is expensive, adding $700 to $1,000 to the cost of performing surgery. The need for public funding is a barrier to routine use, Dr. Fedak says. But he suggests that using Kryptonite could result in net savings to the health-care system by reducing recovery time and major post-op complications, including breastbones that separate after surgery.

"If a patient leaves the hospital a day early, that would be thousands of dollars of savings," he points out.

Patients from around the world have contacted him, seeking repairs to sternums that didn't heal properly after surgery, Dr. Fedak says. Although he is cautious about expanding the use of Kryptonite prematurely, he adds, reconstructions to damaged sternums "work very well."

Mr. Haddad says he's been the envy of his friends since he was glued back together with Kryptonite. He mentions a neighbour who took more than six months to bounce back after recent heart surgery.

"He is absolutely annoyed that he wasn't in the [Kryptonite]study."

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