Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams inadvertently "bad mouthed" Canada's heath-care system by travelling to Florida to have his heart repaired, according to a prominent cardiac surgeon who says he would have gladly performed the surgery himself.
"The fact that these procedures are available in Canada and they're done with individuals who are very well trained and have had good results definitely bad mouths the health-care system," said Bob Kiaii, director of minimally invasive cardiac surgery and robotics at London Health Sciences Centre.
"And it puts a really bad reputation to the health care we're now providing."
Dr. Kiaii said he could understand if Mr. Williams went to the United States for a procedure not offered here.
How Mr. Williams came to put his heart in the hands of Joseph Lamelas, a highly skilled minimally invasive surgeon in Miami, has more to do with his high societal status. As a Premier who is also very wealthy, he was able to obtain what most Canadians can only dream of: the inside track on the best surgeon - and the money to pay for it.
He contacted fellow Memorial University graduate, Lynn McGrath, who currently serves on the board of directors at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, N.J.
"So I phoned up Lynn and said: 'Here's my situation - My doctors here locally suggested I get a second opinion because, you know, your heart is your heart,'" he told NTV News channel from his Sarasota, Fla., condo.
"I had a good chat with him and he said 'Look, I've got to tell you, if I was getting this done myself, there is a doctor at Mount Sinai in Miami, Dr. Joe Lamelas and my opinion is he's certainly the best in North America, one of the best in the world.'"
Dr. Lamelas performs the so-called "Miami Method" - his take on the minimally invasive mitral-valve repair that includes special surgical tools he developed.
Mount Sinai Medical Center public relations manager, Joanna Palmer, said Dr. Lamelas has done 2,000 minimally invasive heart operations.
"He has the highest survival rate and fewest complications in the state of Florida [for heart operations]and his morbidity and mortality rates are far below the national average," said Ms. Palmer in a telephone interview from Miami. "He has trained over 300 physicians from around the world on the Miami Method."
According to Asim Cheema, an interventional cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, the surgery is technically difficult to do.
"Once you know more about the procedure, the less critical you can be about his decision to go," said Dr. Cheema. "It seems, this is the procedure he wanted to have, so if this is the procedure he wanted to have, he would like to go to the person who has done the most."
Staff warned Mr. Williams that going to the U.S. for the surgery could spark controversy. He waved them off, saying "When it comes to health care, I do kind of override as much as I can and say 'Here's the way I want this done.'"
Mr. Williams decision has Canadians wondering how their health-care system can be good enough for them - but not for a Premier.
And it has annoyed a proud medical community that says he could have had equally good results in Canada.
"First of all, let me say, health care is personal," said Samuel Lichtenstein, head of cardiac surgery at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.
"But minimally invasive mitral-valve surgery is available at many centres in Canada."
As for Mr. Williams, he said he's relieved he had the surgery in Florida because the damage to his heart was more severe than anticipated. He plans to run for a third term and stressed that he was aware of his condition for the past year but worked anyway.
The 60-year-old Premier will make his post-surgery debut in Vancouver on Friday, representing Newfoundland and Labrador at his province's Olympic celebrations, adding: "I'd like to be there to represent the province."