Hero heart surgeon saves life of 25-stone trucker

Douglas Coutts (fourth from right) with some of the team members at the Lancashire Cardiac Centre and Mr Nidal Bittar (fourth from left)
Douglas Coutts (fourth from right) with some of the team members at the Lancashire Cardiac Centre and Mr Nidal Bittar (fourth from left)

A hero heart surgeon – who has been praised for saving scores of lives, including a former mayor – came to the rescue of a 25-stone trucker who was just minutes away from dying.

Scotsman Douglas Coutts, 51, was at death’s door after suffering a heart attack on the motorway and was told he had a one in three chance of dying on the operating table.

But Mohamad Nidal Bittar, consultant at the Lancashire Cardiac Centre at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, notched up another victory after an epic eight-hour operation proved to be successful.

“He saved my life,” Mr Coutts said. “He’s a great man. I feel overwhelmed now. I’m just so grateful.”

The Glaswegian was driving south with a fellow truck driver on Tuesday, March 21, when he started to feel ill, but what he thought was a heart attack turned out to be a torn aorta – which can very quickly cause death.

He said: “I took a drink of water but it felt as if it had gone down the wrong way because I had a sharp pain. We had a three-and-a-half hour journey to Charnock Richard and the whole way I knew something was not right.I said to my colleague Rob Wyllie, ‘I don’t feel well, I think I’m having a heart attack.’ He said I looked terrible and he ran across to the service station at Charnock Richard to call an ambulance.”

Paramedics took Mr Coutts to Royal Preston Hospital for an initial assessment, before being transferred across the county.

He added: “The doctor at Preston told me I was at death’s door. I couldn’t quite grasp the situation.

“The next thing, I was in an ambulance heading for Blackpool. “Mr Bittar said it was life-threatening and he had to get me into theatre right away. That was the last thing I can remember.”

Modest Mr Bittar, who has also raised thousands for the hospital’s Blue Skies Hospital Fund, admitted to being nervous due to Mr Coutts weight, and described the operation as ‘challenging’.

After cooling his body down to below 20 degrees Celsius and stopping his blood from circulating as normal, Mr Bittar and his expert team replaced his aortic valve, his ascending aorta, and repaired a tear in the arch.

And six days later, the trucker at haulage firm RT Keedwell was back at home in Glasgow recovering, with his wife Janis and step-daughter Andee, 26.

Mr Bittar said: “The surgery itself is risky and up to 30 per cent die.”

After graduated from Aleppo University Medical School in Syria in 1991, Mr Bittar finished a residency programme at Damascus Central Hospital before training in the surgical management of heart failure in Berlin. He has been at the Vic since 2008.

Manchester University, he was appointed consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Blackpool in 2008.