Mr Amir Bhatti is a consultant general surgeon at Spire Washington Hospital. He specialises in a number of common procedures including breast lump removal and investigation, gallbladder and gallstone removal and hernia removal.
Amir is also one of the only consultants in the country to specialise in minimally invasive parathyroid surgery – also known as a parathyroidectomy – an operation to remove the parathyroid glands or parathyroid tumours.
He explains: “The four parathyroid glands are next to the thyroid gland in the neck. Each gland is about the size of a grain of rice, weighs approximately 30 milligrams and is three to four millimetres in diameter.
“These glands help your body control the calcium level in the blood and produce a hormone called parathyroid hormone or PTH.”
In some instances, a parathyroid adenoma (a benign tumour) can cause high blood calcium; this produces excessive amounts of PTH, which in turn, increases the level of calcium in the blood to abnormal levels, causing multiple symptoms.
These symptoms are vague and include lack of energy, abdominal and joint pain, weakness, hypertension and depression. More specific symptoms such as kidney stones and bladder problems can also occur.
“It is due to these symptoms that patients can often be misdiagnosed and become severely ill”, says Amir, who has performed hundreds of thyroid-related procedures at Spire Washington Hospital.
“Often patients will be diagnosed with things like chronic fatigue syndrome or iron deficiencies, but that is not the case. The diagnosis is relatively easy and it requires checking blood levels of calcium and PTH. If they are raised then the diagnosis is likely to be a parathyroid adenoma.”
Someone who knows all too well what it’s like to suffer is Jacqueline Shaw. She was forced to sell her thriving business when she slowly became bed bound due to an unknown illness.
“People say there is no such thing as a miracle, well thanks to Mr Bhatti, I disagree completely,” says Jacqueline.
“For years I had been ill; some days were a real struggle. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. After numerous visits to my GP, I was diagnosed with a variety of conditions from vitamin D and iron deficiency to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and depression as a result of all of this.”
After no improvement following her many diagnoses, Jacqueline carried out some of her own research. This was when she realised that the symptoms she was having matched those associated with a rare parathyroid disease.
“I went back to my GP but due to it being so rare he was unable to help,” says Jacqueline, who was left distraught, and returned to her research, where she found a support group for others suffering from the disease.
She looked in to treatment, however, only a few consultants specialise in such procedures. After reading about Amir’s specialisms online, Jacqueline – who lives in Lincolnshire – travelled up to the North East for a consultation, where she was told it was likely she would require a parathyroidectomy (removal of the parathyroid glands).
Jacqueline was referred internally to an endocrinologist who carried out further tests and gave an official diagnosis. She describes Amir as down to earth, realistic and knowledgeable: “He put me at ease immediately. He warned me of the complications of surgery and gave me no promise of the outcome, but he was open, understanding and truthful. I was astounded when he offered me a surgery date for the following week.”
The operation is a day case procedure and performed under a general anaesthetic. Just a small incision on the neck is required to find the adenomas and remove them, after which the patient’s calcium goes back to normal within a few hours. In just a few days the patient will start to feel a difference, which Jacqueline says is certainly the case.
“Immediately after surgery I felt the benefits – the fog in my brain and my low mood was gone and my speech and vision had improved significantly. Over the following weeks my health kept improving. The pains in my feet, my stomach and joint pain were all gone. On my final follow up appointment at Spire Washington Hospital I didn’t even need my wheelchair.”
Amir says Jacqueline’s story is one that will resonate with more people than expected: “Many people, particularly at this time of year, feel tired, weak and low. They simply think – and in some cases are told – that they are suffering from some kind of iron or vitamin deficiency, depression or chronic fatigue. Perhaps they have an infection that they presume they have picked up because they are run down.”
But this is not always the case: “As we have seen with Jacqueline, a blood test to confirm the diagnosis, and a simple procedure to excise the adenoma is all it takes to give the patient their life back.”