A COMPLICATION during a routine operation at Papworth Hospital led to the death of a patient with a history of heart problems. Norman Johnston, 75, of Mere Way, Cambridge, died on March 14 following an operation on March 4. He had been admitted for coronary artery bypass grafts similar to an operation he had undergone in 1988 but surgeons discovered during the operation that he also needed a valve replacement. At an inquest in Huntingdon on Wednesday (August 24), surgeon Stephen Large said he had planned a short and sharp operation but that when he opened Mr Johnstons chest he saw swelling to the left aortic valve that had not been picked up in scans. He performed a valve replacement, which extended the operation time to 52 minutes, but without which Mr Johnston would have had a foreshortened life, said Mr Large. I suspect his outcome would have been a couple of years if he was lucky. The typical five per cent mortality rate for repeat bypass grafts rose to around 12 per cent when combined with an aortic valve replacement, he added. What caused his death was widespread hardening of the arteries. I failed him in those 52 minutes and Im very sorry, he told Mr Johnstons family at the inquest. Martin Goddard, the consultant pathologist at Papworth Hospital who conducted a post mortem, said that Mr Johnstons grafts were occluded, providing a clear indication that surgery was necessary. He said that the technical aspects of the surgery had been satisfactory. Deputy coroner Dr Sam Bass gave a narrative verdict, saying that Mr Johnston had died from a known complication from a procedure.