A GRANDMOTHER who is one of the first people in Scotland to undergo pioneering surgery to relieve severe breathing problems said the results have given her a "new lease of life".

Jean Lundie, 78, from Summerston in Glasgow, was referred for the procedure at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank after developing such excruciating chest pains and breathlessness that paramedics believed she was suffering a heart attack.

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In fact, her breathing difficulties were being caused by an abnormally raised diaphragm, which was squashing her lungs.

Until now, the only option available to patients with the condition - known as diaphragmatic palsy - was open chest surgery, but the high risk of side effects generally outweighed the potential benefits.

However, Mrs Lundie has now been cured after becoming only the second person in Scotland to undergo a new, minimally invasive keyhole procedure called VATS Diaphragmatic Plication.

The technique sees the surgeon flatten down and secure the diaphragm back into its original position place using very small sutures. Most patients will only require the operation once.

It was first developed in France 15 years ago and has been available in England for around three years.

HeraldScotland: Dr Rocco Bilancia, next to X-rays showing before and after images of a patient's lungsDr Rocco Bilancia, next to X-rays showing before and after images of a patient's lungs

However, it has only now been launched in Scotland thanks to Golden Jubilee thoracic surgeon, Dr Rocco Bilancia, who trained in the procedure in Middlesborough.

Mrs Lundie, who first developed breathing problems 20 years ago and was so short of breath she had been using a walking stick to move around her house for the past ten years, said she can now walk unaided.

She said: "My husband and I were great hillwalkers all our days, but I haven’t been able to do that for a long time. But after the operation, about five weeks ago, my daughter and I went to Girvan for two nights.

"My daughter said ‘do you fancy going for a walk down to the front?’ and I said 'yes'. We walked along the harbour and she said ‘I cannot believe it – you’re not gasping’. It was great. I definitely feel like a new person."

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The turning point came during the summer after Mrs Lundie returned from a funeral, and became breathless climbing the two flights of stairs to her flat.

She said: "I couldn’t get a breath. I managed to get into the house, and luckily my cousin came up. By this time I really felt quite awful and she ended up phoning my daughter and phoning an ambulance.

"The ambulance men thought I was having a heart attack. I was conscious but I was in so much pain. Apparently they stopped the ambulance twice.

“They said ‘she’s got every symptom of a heart attack but when we did the tests, it wasn’t the heart’. They got me to hospital at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and I was in there for eight or nine days.

“They got me on my feet again and before I left the hospital they said that there was a surgeon who was going to contact me about operating and that he was interested in the case.”

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After meeting with Dr Bilancia, Mrs Lundie underwent the procedure in September.

In nearly half of cases, the cause of diaphragmatic palsy is unclear. However, it can be triggered by common infections such as a cold or virus which may attack the nerves around the diaphragm.

Dr Bilancia said: "Over time the diaphragm would be stretched up in the chest by the pressure from the abdomen and this causes them to not the be able to breathe very well anymore."

Dr Bilancia is scheduled to operate on his third Scottish patient this week, but expects many more referrals in future.

He added: "With this new approach, which is a minimally invasive approach,we can even do this on patients that are more elderly or borderline fit for surgery so a wider number of patients can be treated. Potentially, all of them can be treated."