Emperor Akihito to undergo heart bypass surgery

Kyodo

Emperor Akihito will undergo heart bypass surgery Saturday at University of Tokyo Hospital, the Imperial Household Agency said Sunday, after an angiogram performed the previous day showed the further narrowing of two branches of his left coronary artery.

A team of doctors decided to conduct the surgery after consulting the Emperor about it, the agency said. It will be the first surgery for the 78-year-old Emperor since 2003, when he had surgery for prostate cancer.

The Emperor underwent an angiogram for about an hour Saturday to examine his cardiac function before leaving the hospital Sunday. The test was performed after the Emperor displayed symptoms of a minor ischemic change while recently engaging in light exercise, according to the agency.

Compared with a similar test in February last year, the two branches of the artery providing oxygen and nourishment to the heart muscle had narrowed further, prompting doctors to decide coronary artery bypass surgery is necessary, according to the agency.

Ichiro Kanazawa, the Imperial Household’s main doctor, and Ryozo Nagai, professor at University of Tokyo, told a news conference they expect the surgery will enable the Emperor to maintain his lifestyle, conducting official duties including visiting local cities nationwide and engaging in physical exercise such as tennis, and improve his quality of life.

The surgery will be conducted by a team of doctors from the University of Tokyo Hospital and Juntendo University Hospital, the agency said.

Since the angiogram showed that two branches of the left coronary artery had narrowed, the doctors decided to graft a blood vessel taken from another part of the Emperor’s body and use it to bypass the obstructed branches, it said.

In the surgery likely to take about five hours, doctors will give the Emperor a general anesthetic and work to bypass the obstructed branches while keeping his own heart beating, the agency said. The Emperor is expected to be able to leave the hospital in about two weeks if there are no complications.

Heart bypass surgery is commonly performed in Japan to treat the narrowing of coronary arteries. According to the Japanese Association for Thoracic Surgery, about 16,500 such surgeries were conducted in Japan in 2009 and 98 percent of the patients left hospital without any trouble.

Since the heart examination last February, doctors have monitored the Emperor’s condition and administered medication and the emperor has noticed no particular symptoms.

The Emperor, who ascended the throne in 1989, underwent treatment for prostate cancer in 2003. Last November, he was hospitalized for over two weeks for bronchial pneumonia.

The Emperor also suffered stomach bleeding and other problems in 2008, believed to have been caused by stress, leading to his official duties being cut back since 2009.