Cow heart valve transplant give elderly man a new lease on life

Date:20 April 2022 Author: Olwethu Mpeshe Tags:, ,

Can you imagine; a group of strangers in medical scrubs digging at your opened heart while you are wide awake laying on a surgical table? This is what happened to John Smallwood who recently underwent the first cow heart valve transplant at the Coventry hospital and Warwichshire.

John, 74-years-old, became the first person to have a cow heart transplant, receiving a double heart valve transplant during the two hour operation all while he was awake. The two valves, which are expected to up his quality of life, were from a specially bred cow’s heart.

Speaking about his experience, the retired paramedic from Nuneaton in Warwickshire said “It was like something out of Star Wars. I feel incredibly lucky to have had to operation.”

According to medics at the hospital — because of the 74-year-old’s heart failure — it was too risky for him to have the normal anaesthetic. Hence, he had to be awake for the duration surgery, making it into the history books.

During the surgery, any movement could have been fatal, so Smallwood obviously had to lie completely still for the two hour operation.

Heart surgeon who led the operation, Nishant Gangil, said that “We kept telling John what was happening, otherwise he could have got anxious during such a long operation. He was very brave and cooperated with everything.”

The elderly man is no stranger to heart surgery. He previously had an open heart surgery to repair leaking mitral valve almost a decade ago which allowed him to return to workplace until he retired. However, the valves started leaking again but open heart surgery was not on the cards for him until this life saving cow valve heart transplant was made possible.

Before this life saving surgery, Smallwood was struggling to breath even through tasks as easy as walking up the stairs.

John says medics advised him to have his eyes closed when he makes his way into the operating theatre to avoid being overwhelmed. “Being the fool I am, I kept them open,” the retired paramedic said.

“There must have been 15 or so outside and another five or six with the team inside. I thought, ‘Blimey, are they all here for me?”

But according to Gangil, John’s mental strength helped him come through something that was quite unique and they were ecstatic with the results.

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