The San celebrates 40 years of cardio surgery

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Students from Wahroonga Adventist School form a heart on the front lawn of Sydney Adventist Hospital. (Credit: Kevin Paterson)

Hundreds of students from Wahroonga Adventist School formed the shape of a heart on the front lawn of Sydney Adventist Hospital on Thursday (May 30) to celebrate a special anniversary.

The event was to commemorate 40 years since the San became the first private hospital in Australia to offer a full cardiac program, and to educate children about the importance of heart health.

To begin the celebrations, the children, who were wearing red clothing, participated in some exercises and dance moves . The students then heard a short speech from Adventist HealthCare CEO Brett Goods, who spoke about the history and significance of the San’s cardiovascular and thoracic services.

“It’s people who make the difference to this organisation,” Mr Goods said. “We have a highly skilled team that have made the San what it is today.”

Primary and high-school students copy the exercises from the stage.

Many surgeons, doctors and nursing staff who performed the first heart surgeries over 40 years ago were in attendance. They celebrated the milestone by cutting a cake, reminiscing and having morning tea.

Also present on the day was former 24-year San superintendent Dr Bert Clifford, who enjoyed the celebrations. “It has been a great event and it’s lovely to reflect and have a bit of fun,” he said.

Dr Clifford expressed his delight at how the San has progressed since its cardiac services were first established in 1979.

“Forty years ago, there were many who felt that the private system should not take up cardiac surgeries,” Dr Clifford said. “It was too advanced, and they were worried we wouldn’t meet standards . . . but we soon gained a reputation for being more efficient than the public hospitals. I’m so glad we took the risk.”

Some of the pioneers of the San’s cardiovascular and thoracic program.

Dr Geoffrey McGrath, who was instrumental in establishing the San’s first cardiac services, also attended the celebrations.

“I was asked to join the new cardiac team in 1978 . . . we were opening up chests and doing some of the same procedures that only registrars do now. I’ve never regretted a day of my nursing training. Looking back 40 years, I don’t have any bad memories.”

Rose-Marie Radley, former director of nursing at the San, reflected on her involvement with the San’s first cardiac program.

“I’m proud to have been involved . . . it was a big job, we had to train all the nurses, but it was a pleasure to do. It put us on the map as a hospital. To think that was 40 years ago now is fantastic.”

From humble beginnings, the San today is home to one of Australia’s most sophisticated cardiac programs, including robotic surgery.

Staff and alumni celebrated how the San has pioneered multiple technological developments, including being one of the first hospitals to offer angioplasties and stent surgeries in the ’80s, and CT scanning. The hospital was quick to purchase robotic heart surgery equipment in 2012, and since then San staff have participated in the world’s first “heart in a box” surgery, and inserted the world’s smallest pacemaker in 2017.

“Looking back now on what we used to do as 25-year-old nurses, I’m sure there was somebody looking after us,” Dr McGrath said.

The first heart surgery performed at the San was for a child who had a correction of a PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus). Forty years on, children formed the shape of a heart to celebrate the countless lives that have been saved since then.