Utrecht claims Benelux first with new type of heart valve

Doctors at University Medical Center Utrecht  have inserted a new type of tissue heart valve into a patient in what they say is the first operation of its kind in the Benelux.

Like other tissue valves the new valve is made of cow tissue but it has a special coating which will make it last longer. Conventional tissue valves need to be replaced after fifteen years.

‘The special coating prevents calcification and the valve can potentially last a lifetime. And in the unlikely event of another operation the valve is shaped in such a way as to make placing a second valve a much easier proposition,’ heart surgeon Willem Suyker told public broadcaster NOS.

According to Suyker the valve is ‘a breakthrough’ in the treatment of heart valve problems, especially for people with an active lifestyle. The new valve was developed by US company Edwards Lifesciences.

The first person to benefit from the new valve in the Netherlands is professional show jumper Kiki Bleeker, who developed heart problems after she contracted a bacterial infection four years ago.

‘Mechanical valves weren’t an option because I want children. And I work with horses so in the case of a fall, the blood thinning medication I would be on would increase my chances of internal bleeding,’ Bleeker told NOS. With the new valve Bleeker only needed blood thinning drugs for a couple of months.

It is not completely certain the valve will last a lifetime, according to chairman Jos Maessen of the Dutch association of thorax surgery NVT.

‘Animal testing has shown good results but the biggest question is how long the valve will last in humans,’ NOS quotes him as saying.

Some 4,500 people a year need a new heart valve in the Netherlands. The hospital has a budget for another fifteen operations this year.

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