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photo of Carroll Starnes, who received a pig heart transplant

Medical

Medical Pig Valve Is Deep in the Hearts of Texans

The pig has a special place in Carroll Starnes’ heart — and she’s not alone.

The Texas woman known fondly as Aunt Carroll is among thousands of Americans who have received a biological replacement heart valve from a pig. It’s the same replacement-valve surgery performed on former first lady Barbara Bush in 2009.

Pig, or porcine, valves are commonly used by heart surgeons in patients who suffer from a stiffening of the aortic valve. Pig valves are used in the procedure because the animal’s heart is similar in size and function to that of humans.

It’s a time-tested procedure. The first porcine valves were transplanted into humans more than 30 years ago. While mechanical valves can be used, many doctors prefer the biological valve because it does not require the use of blood thinners to prevent clotting and has a more “natural” function than artificial replacements, which can have an audible “clicking” noise that some patients find distracting.

Around the world, physicians perform nearly a quarter-million heart valve replacements each year. While pig valves are very common, bovine, or cow valves also are used in heart procedures.

Skilled surgeons and the pig valves are adding years to the lives of heart patients like Aunt Carroll. It’s part of a medical/agricultural revolution where transplants between species can provide beneficial results for humans.

Saving lives — just another way Agriculture is Your Culture.